M: Late Thanksgiving evening, my family would bring our Christmas tree home. Dad would get out his old shark tooth saw and trim off the bottom of the tree trunk. Dad’s dull shark teeth would scratch at that stump, and Dad would mutter under his breath. About five minutes into that same cut he would start swearing audibly. By ten minutes the curses flowed from his mouth like poetry. It just wasn’t Christmas without Dad swearing.


L: The day after Thanksgiving, Dad (with my assistance, since I was smaller and wrigglier and also thought it was fun) pulled the Christmas tree out of the crawlspace in the basement. Mom would turn on “Light of the Stable,” by Alison Krauss (I firmly believe, still, that I am physically incapable of decorating the tree without the music on that cassette) and carefully set up her various nativity scenes while we assembled the tree, fluffed the branches, and passed the lights around and around.


M: Dad’s Fist belonged near the top of the tree. A chunky red blob of paint-smattered papier-mâché, it was our most prized ornament. When Dad was young, he was heartlessly and unceremoniously forced into arts and crafts fun. In protest, he grabbed a fistful of gluey newspaper and called it art. And thus Dad’s Fist was born. It’s everyone’s favorite; we display it prominently.


L: There are rules to decorating the tree. The crystal pianos have to go on first – they get prime spots, each with their tiny legs resting on a branch, a light shining through under the lid. After that, it’s whatever you find. To go straight to the boxes and actually look for your favorite ornaments would be poor sportsmanship; you have to be much craftier to get the honor of hanging the NOEL or the stained glass candle. Amy and I lurked around the ornament boxes, picking up and hanging whatever we saw first, but with our eyes peeled for the best ones. Dad, always the good sport, spent his time hanging the mysteriously ubiquitous apples and crocheted snowflakes.


M: Mom always told us that Santa Claus was real. Even when six-year-old me asked her if he was really real and she asked, “Do you really want to know?” and I hesitated, then said yes and she told me he didn’t exist, that never changed anything for her. I still got my picture taken with Santa at the mall. She still put out the decorative plate of cookies and note for Santa. And our presents still read From Santa. Even now, when we thank her for her gifts to us, she’ll respond, “They’re from Santa.” My sister and I always play along. It’s more fun to do it Mom’s way.


L: Nothing on earth feels Christmassy-er to me than sitting on the hard bench of St. Andrew’s Cathedral with my mom and hearing the boy soloist start the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City” as the Choir of Men and Boys processes in to start the service of lessons and carols. Though I don’t think I’ve attended that service since my dad left the choir more than ten years ago, it’s firmly entrenched in my memory as Christmas, more perfectly than anything else.


M: Our first Christmas together, I got her a small present—a picture of me teaching her to ice skate in a nice frame. It had been only four months, but Laura already knew me well. I opened my gift in the middle of her parents’ front hallway, and I just started beaming. Knowing my deep love for all children’s literature, Laura had supplied me with a collection of Dr. Seuss stories, complete with commentary. I stood there in the entryway, wrapping paper at my feet, clutching the big red book in my hands, grinning like a fool. That was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever gotten.


L: Three years ago, shortly before Matt and I got engaged, his family went on a special Christmas trip to Disneyworld. And I was invited along.  It was an odd moment. On the one hand, it was the first time Matt and I really spent Christmas together—but doing that in Florida meant that it was also the first time I spent Christmas away from my own family. We both knew that the ring was coming soon, that in some ways we’d both make sacrifices as we brought two lives together and built a new little family unit—but Christmas in Disneyworld was jarringly different. We spent a full sixteen hours in Magic Kingdom with 80,000 of our best friends. I had the sniffles (it was surprisingly cold for Florida) and a small child managed to sneeze directly on Matt’s face, creating the ickiest Christmas memory ever. We couldn’t contain the eye-rolling all of the many times we were wished a magical day. There was no boy choir music, my ornaments were entirely absent from the tree on Christmas morning, and I spent the whole week with Not My Family Yet. It was only Christmas-ish. I spent practically the whole next year ready for Christmas again already. Ready to do it right.


M: It’s almost our second Christmas as a married couple, and our first in a house of our own. Our tree is full of bare, ornament-less spots. We have none of the decorations either of us grew up with. We have different holiday movie requests, opposing music preferences, and conflicting decorating techniques. And how will it be Christmas unless it is exactly the same as Christmases past? Yet every year we do things a little differently. Every year this holiday has belonged more to the two of us and less to our separate families. We buy each other yearly ornaments. We find other music. We watch different movies. And every year it begins to feel a bit more like Christmas.

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