Once Upon A Christmas By Maya Elmer

Tuesday December 27, 2005

It is the first of November. The second floor up-elevator at Macy’s literally deposits me into the midst of CHRISTMAS! Six feet away stands a fir tree, encrusted and fililgreed with golden ornaments edge-to-edge. I gasp at the suddenness of its being and feel assaulted. To the left, out of the corner of my eye, rows of tiny, red santas—or reindeer—or toy soldiers. They demand that I linger; to finger them. Or do they coax me to pick out what should be on my tree this year. I turn my shoulder to their messages, and leave. I am affronted. The first days of November are too soon for me to reach out to the celebrating days of holiday-December. It’s not time yet.  

But it isn’t that: 

Nostalgic sorrow brushes/rushes over me as I think of the years of family, excitement, and involvement in a pagan enjoyment of the season. All are long past. Is it that my apartment speaks now with a different voice? No room for an eight-foot tree; no storage for the glittering and sentimen-tal boxes of last year’s and yesteryear’s ornaments.  

Yes. I grieve a little at this moment.  

But then I remember the year in the very late ‘70s—35 years ago now—when we bring home the eight-foot scotch pine—the tree of the year—with its airy branches and long needles. We live in a house with a vaulted living room ceiling; a double bay window with leaded glass casement windows looks out on a lawn where fifty year old elms have shed their leaves months ago. A hawthorne tree to the left. Quite often in Michigan, it is NOT a white Christmas.  

Everyone of my teenagers is away: at school, Antioch or Wayne U; or in the Peace Corps; or community living, or having a baby. In tune with the winds that are blowing change as well as marijuana smoke, I decide on a change, too.  

A sense of fun creeps up on me. To dress-up, to change the house into its party-mode. I tie wide white ribbons in bows over five or six gold balls, swag-fashion. Each swag tucked in and among the branches, truly a magnificent tree with its dark green needles, a foil for the white, and gold.  

Is this the year, I wrap sticky, white, starched strings over big party balloons? and puncture them when the strings have dried to create a huge mobile? Layers of balsa dowels, one over the other, fish hook swivels allow the balls to balance gracefullly in the front hall, by the stairs where the whole installation hangs from the second floor hall chandelier. Is this the year my eldest introduces a friend who is very vocal in his appreciation of the beauty of the house?  

The architect who had lived in the house before us has designed the perfect staircase for swags of cedar--open to the center hall. “Christmas time IS exciting!” I think as I anchor one end to the beautifully carved newel post.  

Over the mantel I hang a large round wicker wall decoration. It takes me one whole afternoon to spray magnolia leaves with gold paint and then glue them so they jut from the cross bars: a Christmas mandala. To the right or left stand three foot tall composite crystal statues, representing stylized Three Wise Men. I have glued, one upon the other, goblet bases, glasses and crystals, gold leaf and gold stickers, gold braid. One tall and skinny, the other fat and round, and the third, a middling mix. What a wonderful way to memorialize those expensive, broken Waterford wedding presents.  

In another year, friend-Carol and I fashion three wise men out of rolled self-drying clay, laid over three sizes of wine bottles. It’s hard to get around the “stomach” of a Gallo bottle although the vermouth ones take to the clay naturally. The red of the clay complements the walnut mantelpiece, the golden beige grass cloth wall paper and the centerpiece.  

Daughter Lucy reminds me not to forget the white felt angel silhouette appliqued onto green burlap as a wall hanging and sprinkled with the starlight of sequins.  

“The stockings!” Jamie chimes in. “I remember how they hung on the mantel, only to find them—white felt and with gold trim at the ends of our beds in the morning. Exciting expectation! An orange in the toe; and Bart, my brother, and I played “warship,” until it was time to go down for breakfast and presents!” 

Christmas is always a fun-time. Not for me the anxieties of some past guilt-feelings. I never get sick in December.. Indeed, I once had a baby who waited for the day after Christmas to get born. I’m basically a pagan-druid at heart. It is a time to celebrate!  

There’s another day in December which I always celebrate secretly. I raise my glass in toast to the shortest day of the year ! Dec. 21, the winter solstice. Each extra minute in the day when the sun sets later, or rises even one minute earlier than the day before is an annual triumph for the good of my soul—and the sun.  

So I wait four more days for the official celebration!  


• • • 


Now, 20, 30, even 40 years later, the house of the ‘70s gets more beautiful in my historical mind. Today, a flower pot filled with hardened plaster-of-paris holds my little coyote-bush branch now painted white. In a pattern of contemporary lacework, crystal balls dangle, as do a few golden pieces from Jakarta and Bali. It stands all year around in the back bedroom on a dresser top behind books and photos, souvenirs of life. Looking perky; or sassy; sometimes, bored—depending on how I am feeling that day..  

Until Christmas week ! ! Then—Exultate!! Jubilate !! The magic begins again !!