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Ready or Not — And I’m Not — Christmastime is Coming

I’ve heard that perfectionists have the messiest homes. It being December, I am going to extrapolate that the biggest believers in Jesus have the fewest Christmas decorations.

I am paralyzed by pre-Christmas. The first card arrived in the mail last Tuesday from Las Vegas, and I shoved it under the stack of bills and magazines, unopened. I cannot walk down to our cellar to tackle the five Rubbermaid bins marked XMAS. I know the wreath hanger is in the desk drawer of the secretary I received from my grandmother, and there it remains. I have fat red candles wrapped in tissue paper in the china cupboard; I see them every time I reach in for a wine glass.

I believe in Christmas itself. The 80-mile journey of a woman nine months pregnant to Bethlehem, the donkey and the lamb attending Joseph, the virgin birth. The image of the baby Jesus swaddled and lying in a manger is comforting to me. The three Wise Men making their way to the King, with a star to guide them, is motivating. But getting an Advent Calendar hung up by the first of December, or the Advent Wreath on the dining room table any time before the pink candle should be lit, overwhelms me.

There is a home in the center of our neighborhood very much on display by virtue of its location. They have a 40-foot evergreen in their front yard that a tree service strung with lights, and the day after Thanksgiving the family lit it up. My children think it’s a little dumb that I “ooh” every single time we drive by, but it is just that magnificent. I am envious of this perfectly timed and publicly shared decoration. But even if I had a budget for seasonal displays, I would be unable to schedule the workmen, or tell them which tree would be best. To say nothing of turning the lights on every night at 5 p.m.

I have the same reaction to my sister’s home. Jane decorates with crèches she has collected from Germany since her college years: Baby Jesus beautifully carved from wood and adoring Mary in ethereal blue on plaster. Jane tucks a simple three- figured set on a hallway shelf. A little Christmas wink while you’re waiting for the bathroom. I have a Hummel nativity set I inherited from my godmother that has remained in the back of my closet for the 18 years we have lived in our home. It is boxed safely and out of the way of my 100-pound black Lab’s tail and my middle school sons. But my worry for its destruction is not why it’s in the dark. I have just never been able to get it out of the box, and I don’t know when I will.

We do have a Christmas tree because my spouse and children bring one home from the tree farm every year. They spend an afternoon decorating it while listening to holiday music on the radio, and I stay out of the living room until they are done. I will find a sweet picture of the kids and post it on Facebook wishing all a Merry Christmas, and print out a few photos to send to distant family whom the electronic message will not reach. I will get to the basement and lift the lids on the XMAS containers, and pull out our stockings and the beeswax angels I line up on our fireplace mantle.

We will go to Mass on Christmas Eve, and sit by my mother, and sing familiar songs about peace and joy. No decoration in the church will be found lacking, and I will marvel at how enormous the camel is in the church’s nativity scene. I will be filled with the serene spirit of Christmas, and this inexplicable paralysis will lift. There is nothing more I can or cannot do. It has arrived, and freed me from expectations. And it is then that my Christmas season begins.

The writer lives in White River Junction. She can be reached at paulamnulty@yahoo.com.