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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

December 4, 2011

I’ve never been much into collecting things.  I think part of it is because I grew up in the house of a woman who makes a hobby out of collecting collections.  Frog figurines.  Plants.  China.  Frog anything.  Furniture.  Pets.

Then there’s the Christmas collection.  My mom has an enormous collection of Christmas decorations, so big that anything from the other 11 months of the year was literally packed up and put away.  It was methodically replaced by Christmas gear: knick-knacks, candles, stuffed animals, tin wind-up toys, a Christmas village, nativities galore.  We had a big tree and nearly every inch was covered in lights, heirloom ornaments, new ornaments, glass balls, wooden cranberry garlands, ribbons, icicles, AND candy canes.  I don’t know how they stood up under all that weight; in fact, they didn’t.  Our trees fell over all the time.  All the throw pillows on every couch or chair in the house?  Packed up and replaced with Christmas ones.  Yes, she went that far.

It was all part of a tradition that I didn’t want to get sucked into: the collecting of stuff.  However, despite my eschewing of collecting, I have a few collections of things… and the majority of them center on Christmas.  The most special is my Advent calendar collection.

Some of my collection

Among all my mom’s Christmas decorations, there was an Advent calendar and it was my favorite thing – a pop-up miniature 19th century village made out of paper.  The doors you opened were literally doors – or sometimes windows – into the villagers’ homes or the blacksmith’s workshop or the church.  She saved it and brought it out every Christmas.  It may seem strange to save an Advent calendar from year to year because half the fun is finding out what lays behind the doors.  But I never felt the loss of mystery or excitement from year to year.  Every door was special.  There was always something I had missed the year before, or there were old friends to meet again.

What I loved was the anticipation.  Ever since I was little, the waiting has always been my favorite part of Christmas.  The presents wrapped up under the tree always became slightly less intriguing once the paper came off Christmas morning.  The excitement of waiting in line to see Santa was always way better than actually sitting on some strange man’s lap.  Christmas Eve just has some indefinable something over Christmas day – there’s that hush, that stillness, as if the whole world is holding its breath because it knows something momentous is about to occur.  Through the Advent calendar, my mom taught me that sometimes the waiting is more important than the having.

I can thank my mother for my love of Advent calendars and this new tradition of mine.  I have eight; some were presents, some I bought myself.  None of them are particularly old or have a ton of memories attached yet, but I keep them from year to year, carefully pressing the doors closed once Christmas is over, putting them away until the following December.  Every year I bring them out and feel that tingle of anticipation all over again when I open those doors marked 1.

Do you have any special Christmas traditions, whether new or holdovers from childhood?  What’s better: the slow anticipation of the wait for Christmas, or that Christmas morning (or Eve, depending on your household) frenzy of tearing into presents and emptying stockings?

P.S.  There’s a poem by Mark Doty called “The Advent Calendars” (imagine that!) that is so apt.  Here are some lines:

“About the final miracle, 
there’s little surprise, 
once you’ve seen it; you don’t need
to believe the story about space
pouring itself into the form 
of a god, the glory in the barn. 
It’s the promise that matters, 
twenty-five portals
incomplete until they’re opened”
One Comment leave one →
  1. anneschwal permalink*
    December 5, 2011 9:01 am

    I wish you had some pictures of your mom’s over the top decorations! Or a video of a giant Great Dane whisking 80 holiday trinkets off of a shelf with one wag of his tail…

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