By Monday, December 3, it was time to decorate the house. Although a hike through the woods or onto a parking lot would have resulted in a real tree, I simply pulled an elongated box from the shelf and fit together three pieces of an eight-foot artificial tree (lights already strung). Unadorned, she is a common, plastic creature, but once dressed in ornaments, she becomes a red and silver beauty.
Some of the ornaments are easy to place. Finishing touches demand a bit more skill: candy canes and pups in socks, musical instruments and miniature wrapped presents. What is missing is the smell of real pine, but cinnamon candles offer an alternative.
The challenge is the village, which every year is situated on ten feet of book shelf surface. Not much of a task to place the buildings, but oh, those little additions that complete the scene. No question that fireman and his Dalmatian stand in front of the fire station, but where to put the people with gifts? They can’t all be coming from the train station.
And how to stack tuna and tomato paste cans underneath that white flannel so that the children slide down a snowy hill? Or place the hydrants where a dog can stop and sniff and be sure to keep the mailman moving right along to deliver letters and packages? Like the final stroke on a painting, tiny details finish the annual project and leave me with a sense, not only of satisfaction, but completion.
Within this home enters a new spirit because my sister Mary bequeathed me her holiday banners: JOY TO THE WORLD spreads across the space above the piano, and PEACE hangs over the small ceramic tree. The Magi on one wall point to Bethlehem and the star hanging on another. The Angel floats above the village. I love my sister’s banners: exquisite designs, made perfect by curved edges, beaded crowns, and fringed garments. No need to add a final flourish to any of them.
All the while I sing along with Sissel, James Taylor, and Rene Fleming. They sing of snow drifting on rooftops, birth in bleak midwinter, and city sidewalks dressed in holiday style. Another weary year slips away into a new Christmas. And then comes Fleming’s haunting version of the Sandy Denny song:
Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go . . .
For who knows where the time goes?
who knows where the time goes?
Turning a small skater at one angle and securing the pastor who keeps falling in front of his church, making sure that identical ornaments are spaced far apart is a metaphor, I suppose, of peace: the finishing touches I seek in folds of fabric, orbs of shining glass, and the cascade of lovely music. Winter holidays never possess that completion my heart desires, but at the end of the year when the shadows and night deepen, when the wind and rain slice the air, rituals promise that perhaps this Christmas will be the most wondrous of all.