This year as I prepared to fly home for Christmas, I didn’t bother to ask if the Christmas tree was up. I knew this year was going to be like the last: I would walk into my family’s house, and it would look like it does in the summer with a few more blankets strewn around. The only way you would know it was nearly Christmas is if you turned on the TV and saw the many Christmas movies taped for our Hallmark binging pleasure.
The day after I touched down, my dad enlisted my brother’s help to bring up our artificial tree from the basement, my sister and I stood on opposite sides and strung lights, and I brought up our three boxes of ornaments from the basement. Usually my sister and I decorate together, but I am now the only one with the blessing of a two week winter break and therefore was the one to delicately place our elementary school picture ornaments alongside mementos from church, family, and friends. A santa hat sat askew as our tree topper, as our previous angel had served inadvertently as a mouse’s final resting place when in the basement many years ago and we never bothered to replace it.
We’re not very into decorating, the Johnson household.
Even when I was younger, we didn’t do much more than put up a tree, put candles in the windows, and switch the summer dish set for winter dish set. These days, living on my own, not decorating for the season feels more like a reasonable choice rather than a lazy one. My roommate and I didn’t bother to buy seasonal decor because where would we store it for the other eleven months of the year? Our closets?
Despite it all, I have been taken in by the Christmas decorations this season. I felt the sparkle of magic as I briefly visited a someone’s home, awash with red and green; I enjoyed the newest iteration of primitive Christmas put on by my decorating extraordinaire aunt as we celebrated in her country-style farmhouse; I ooo-ed and ahhh-ed over the lights wrapped around the banister of my cousin’s new home. The Hallmark movies, with all of their impossibly festive homes, must have gotten to me.
In general, I’m kind of a grump when it comes to decorating. I still haven’t put up a painting from my sister partially because I’m afraid to put a nail in my wall, but mostly because I don’t really care if my walls are completely blank. If I lived alone, my apartment would probably look destitute. I come by it naturally, apparently; my aunt made a comment that nothing ever changes at my parents’ house unless she said something—a couch moved there, a photo hung up here, a chair added there.
Even so, in my unchanging childhood home, I found my attention snagged by two frames in the dining room: one a motivational poster that my grandmother had unearthed a few years back, something originally from my mom, and another an edited photo of my grandfather with Acts 20:24 printed on it created by aforementioned aunt. In the stupor of winter break—hours of gaming, too many Christmas cookies, a fair number of Hallmark movies—they made me evaluate what I was doing and how I was spending my time. (Almost convinced me to write a post on goodness, but I will spare you the dull sermon that I would have written; Jack included Mary Oliver’s poem much more nicely.) I remembered that there is a point to decorations beyond mimicking Instagram aesthetics and minimizing the horrified looks on visitor’s faces.
Our Christmas tree did not last more than a week; I took down the lights myself, packed up the ornaments, and snatched the santa hat back. Our home was more transformed for a New Year’s open house party than any Christmas celebrations. Things will probably be the same next year—my walls will most likely still be bare when I come back to Michigan; the tree will not go up until I cross the threshold in Massachusetts once again. Perhaps when I do end up driving a nail through the wall, though, I’ll choose meaning and memory over anything else.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of Grand Rapids. When she’s not brainstorming the newest project to inflict on her students, she’s cooking semi-vegetarian food, reading too many romance books, and playing rhythm games.