The 12 Pains of Christmas – Part 1

1. Getting all that crap out of the attic.

  Dragging boxes out of their non-holiday nursing home wasn’t such a big deal 20 years and 30 pounds ago. It wasn’t my favorite activity even then, but I could generally haul the goods in less than 15 minutes without breaking a sweat or requiring reconstructive surgery after the deed was done. Then again, those were my “salad” days (translation: broke-ass poor) and I had maybe three boxes of mostly handmade or handed-down yule-tidery.

  Now? Good God.

  Just opening the attic door and lowering the ancient ladder causes me to have a small anxiety attack, with whimpering and such. Then I have to rest halfway up that stupid ladder because I’m so out of shape that turning on a light switch wears me out. After the pit stop, I finally make it up to the last few rungs where I can begin the ritual of searching for the invisible hanging chain that is connected to the light that only gets turned on twice a year. (Four times if something dies up there and we notice an odd smell while watching Survivor.)

  This quest for fire, with lots of Helen Keller arm waving, usually lasts at least 5 minutes, two minutes of which are spent recovering from rounds of nearly losing my balance and plummeting to my death. (And, of course, there’s no one down there to help break my fall. As soon as I utter the hellish words “It’s time to get the Christmas stuff out of the attic”, there’s an instantaneous mass exodus from the house, with relatives and friends and family pets fleeing for their lives, scampering to hide behind bushes and trees and startled neighbors, communicating via walkie-talkie until all agree that the risk of returning is minimal.)

  It’s just me and the mice droppings. Alone again, naturally.

  And when I finally locate the light chain, yanking on it with the exasperated fury of a Kardashian who doesn’t yet have her own designer cologne or country, casting a weak light on the contents of the Hell Above Our Heads? Boxes. Boxes from here to China in all directions. Towers of boxes. If you need to hide from the po-po, just head up here, and your story will someday appear on Unsolved Mysteries.

  To be fair, most of this mess is my own doing. As some of you know, I have an obsession with setting out a Christmas Village every year. I’ve toned it down a bit for the past few years, but there was a long stretch where my madness for acquiring miniature real estate knew no boundaries, with me snapping up tiny houses with a feverish intensity that nearly, and should have, led to an intervention.  Or an exorcism. Something.

  But even though I acknowledge 97% of the responsibility for the fact that there isn’t a single inch of available floor space in the attic, it doesn’t mean I can’t fuss about it, so I do. (2 of the 712 boxes have things in them that are not mine, which therefore means that I am not alone in my transgressions and thusly everyone shares in the guilt, even the cats, who own nothing up here.)

  I whine as I’m flat on my belly, my body contorted unnaturally as I stretch for a box of must-use ornaments that have been shoved into a far corner for some ungodly reason, a tiny space where even Jiminy Cricket wouldn’t be able to wear his top-hat, yet the box has been crammed in there somehow. I whine as I stumble-fall down the ladder under the weight of an enormous tub that has 50 rolls of after-Christmas bargain wrapping paper in it. I whine as I’m lying face-down on the couch hours later, my body wracked with spasming muscles that haven’t been used in 11 months, half-heartedly listening to the all-clear alert that has been sounded in the neighborhood so my family can return home.

2. That stupid wrapping paper in the stupid enormous tub.

  We have three of those tubs. Well, at least three that I can identify in a police line-up. (Since I’ve pulled back on my Christmas Village display, from a time when I used to cover an entire 20×40 room down to just a subsection of that abused room, I don’t even use a big chunk of the boxed houses in the attic anymore. There are stacks of houses that haven’t even been inventoried in years. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to walk (crawl?) around one of those stacks and discover Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa having tea.)

  We have more wrapping paper than we could possibly use for the next 50 years. We could wrap a fleet of Buicks in foil paper and not even make a dent in the stock. And I’m not talking about the pointless rolls of paper, the kind where you can only wrap two CD’s and you’re already down to the cardboard tube. Nope, these are the industrial-size, where a single roll could repave all the streets in my neighborhood and you’d still have enough left over to papier-mâché the Statue of Liberty. Big. Ass. Rolls.

  How did this happen, you ask? Well, there’s a two-fold answer. Exhibit A is the fact that I lose control when they first introduce the new wrapping-paper designs each holiday season. I’m fully aware that we already have enough wrapping paper that activists concerned about the Brazilian rainforest have started an online petition to have me placed in lock-up for the last three months of each year.

  But I still can’t help myself. When I see the shiny new patterns and designs, there are always several that I must have, even if somebody has to get hurt in the process. So I snag the ones I want and throw them into the shopping cart, next to the suntan lotion, because the start of the retail Christmas season has officially been moved to Independence Day. Then I lug my purchases home and throw them in a tub and no one ever sees them again. Except possibly Amelia and Jimmy.

  Exhibit B has two perpetrators, myself and my partner. (He’s very wise with his money, never paying full price for anything unless a court order is involved, so he can easily resist the pre-Christmas temptation of paying 86 dollars for two designer sheets of wrapping paper.) But once Santa has gone back to the North Pole where he can live with hundreds of small boys and no one asks questions about it? Well, we’re both on the post-sales like crack-heads in the flour aisle at Piggly Wiggly.

  How can you NOT buy something when it’s super cheap and you might possibly use it before the end of the century? That’s just un-American. When a roll of paper the size of a cheddar wheel has been slashed to fifty cents, that puppy is going in the basket, even if the design printed on the paper is a little questionable and may or may not involve deer engaging in mildly pornographic activities.

  Moral of the story? We never use most of that discount paper. A few rolls, yes, on gifts for those relatives where you are obligated to get them a little something but you really don’t care for them and your heart isn’t in it. (Don’t lie, we all have those kinfolk.) So you end up shoving their present to the back of the tree in that mystery zone where you eventually always find that one present that no one claims to have wrapped, with a name tag of somebody you don’t know. (“Aunt Charlene? Who the hell is Aunt Charlene? Anybody?”)

  Crickets chirp.

3. The Tree of Pain

  There was a time when I was equally divided between having a “live” Christmas tree and an artificial one. Live trees are pretty swell, I love the smell of them and the uniqueness of each tree. Downside? The damn needles that fall off constantly, of course, ending up from one end of the house to the other, aided and abetted by pets who are religiously convinced that these needles must be shared with the world and the bare feet that walk upon it.

  Oh, and we mustn’t forget the watering angle. This is not a particularly taxing aspect of live-tree nurturing, but a healthy tree can suck up gallons of liquid before it realizes that its days are numbered, and it can be quite easy to forget to keep an eye on the bucket of nourishment nestled under the tree. And when you do forget, two horrid things happen: One, the tree can become so dried out that someone lighting a cigarette at the convenience store two blocks over can inadvertently cause your house to burn down. And two, those damn needles are no longer pliant and less able to pierce the skin. They are now hardened spikes that qualify for regulation by government authorities.

  Now, a fake tree is no walk in the park, by any means. First off, there’s the misconception about the box that it comes in. That box is only adequate storage for the tree parts for a very limited amount of time, namely the duration of the trip from the store where you bought it to your house. Once you slice the binding tape on said box, the Christmas music playing in the background should change to the soundtrack from The Exorcist.

  Because that tree is never going to fit in that box again. Ever.

  Try as you might, it’s just not going to happen. Sure, the first year, you might get most of the parts back into the original receptacle. You’ll sweat your ass off doing so, but the tree has not yet learned that you are its bitch and is still mostly cooperative.

  Within two years you can only get half of the tree parts in the box. Within four, the whole process is pointless. The box now has the consistency of wet toilet paper, ripping apart if you breathe on it, and the only thing that fits in the box is the tree stand, and that thing has lost a critical turn screw. (The cat denies involvement, but you know that Fluffy has lied in the past during interrogations.) You might as well throw the stand away. Or at least into the stack of older, rusty stands that have also disappointed their parents.

  The turning point for me? The invention of the pre-lit artificial tree.

  This was a sign that there is a god of some kind, a caring god, one that does not want his/her children to suffer through the mind-wrecking ordeal of stringing lights on a Christmas tree, a horrendous task that the World Health Organization should ban, based on the number of divorces and voluntary commitments to insane asylums that have resulted from a single burnt-out bulb that cannot be found.

  So it’s been pre-lits for me ever since. First, you simply connect the various parts of the tree together (using the instruction manual, written by someone making two cents an hour and who really doesn’t know any English other than “Lady Gaga”). Then you connect the various electrical plugs (which can be a bit tricky, since you will initially encounter more female plugs than male plugs, something that historically only happens at Sadie Hawkins Dances or at the Dinah Shore Invitational, but keep at it and things will balance out). Finally, you shove the main plug into a socket that hopefully has the blessing of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

  Et voila! Pretty lights without the need for attorneys and restraining orders.

  Now, the pre-lit does not get my full love and support. It’s still an artificial tree, and as such, it is subject to the new tree-fabrication technology that allows these things to be manufactured in a manner where the various branches have been so tightly wound together that it looks like a small shrub on the conveyor belt in the originating factory, one located in a country that does not recognize things like child labor laws or the protection of employees from chemical spills.

  This production process allows the tree to be nestled in that box you will never use again. It also means that you must now “fluff” the tree, once it has been released in your home.

  Fluffing = misery. It takes forever to pry the little branch-lets away from the main branch. And you can’t screw around with this prying. You have to shape and mold each little tendril or your tree will look like road-kill. This means that, even though you got the Express Pass with the “not having to string lights” angle, you must still spend a considerable amount of time with the fluffing. Hours and hours. Long enough that by the time you are finished, everyone else has gone to bed.

  Except the cat. The cat who has been eyeing your handiwork for most of the evening, waiting for that sublime moment when you quit jacking with the tree and walk away in defeat, seeking counseling and hopefully prescription tranquilizers. Once you leave the room, the cat will leap on the tree, claw its way toward the summit, chew off the top third of the tree, and then knock the rest of it over for you to find in the morning when all you really wanted to find was a bagel and some coffee….

Click here to read the next installment in this series…

Previously published, slight changes made. And yes, that’s PART of my village, when I do the All-Out Bonanza. I’m standing in the middle of the room. Imagine the same amount of houses to the left as well, and you start to get the overall scope of my obsession…

53 replies »

      • Hold on, I wasn’t giggling. I was full on belly laughing with tears. You described every Christmas with my mother. The fake trees with the built in lights that NEVER fit in the box no matter how many times she says it came out of it. That brutal, wobbly, wooden catastrophe that people call a “ladder” into the attic with the invisible string attached to a 3 watt bulb. That dance with the Devil in the pale bulb light trying to reach a box that somehow ended up in the neighbors attic by way of mice droppings and sheer torment. The 900,000 lbs of Christmas paper – the real ones that you could wrap a fleet of cars in – all nestled together in this tub designed for just that purpose, but not to actually handle the weight. The five hundred trillion boxes that have decorations that she insist she not only keep, but also add to, that she didn’t put out because it was just too much. All of it. I am waiting for part 2 because it’s literally the highlight reel of every agony of Christmas growing up, and you have a way of wording it that just delights. Please, let me know when you post it, my reader has been acting up and only showing me some of the blogs I follow and they seem to change on the site’s whim.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. Is that an actual photo of your village? Tres impressive. But you just listed a few of the reasons I gave up major decorating. I simply don’t have it in me any more. Of course we always cut down a real tree, which was painful in itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, it’s my Bonnywood Village. And it IS a lot of work, which is why it doesn’t always happen. But when that whole mess is up and running, I can spend hours in there, playing and arranging the hundreds of miniature townsfolk (which you can’t see in this shot), setting up little scenarios and imagining stories in my head. I’m six years old again and the magic is real and I hadn’t yet learned to be bitter…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tree fluffing = death by fake pine needles. Days later, you’re still wondering why your hands and arms look like you got in a fight with a rabid raccoon. And the varmint won. I thought the term fluffing was only used behind the scenes of triple X rated movies, but here we are. Master Fluffers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I proudly wear the mantle of Master Fluffer, despite the lusty connotation behind it. Some folks just don’t understand the raccoon torment we go through just to make pretty things. But in the end, the prettiness wins, and that’s good enough for me… 😉


  3. If that was your village, I would agree that some sort of intervention was in order. And I am speechless when it comes to those tubs of paper. We always have a real tree, and now I think we will have one till they put us in the home. The box battle is enough to turn me off. The real one gets picked up by the municipality and turned into compost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s my village. (Why are so many people questioning my ability to create something pretty? Hmm. Could it be my bitter snarkiness? Surely not.) But yes, I went insane for several years there with my miniature housing acquisitions. Luckily, I’m now on a retirement budget and can no longer afford further investment. There will be little expansion of the Bonnywood Village tableau, just rezoning and reconfiguring of the current establishments… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I was in a store recently, and noticed a clearance bin of Department 56 tchotchkes. I was SOOOO tempted to send one to you, but I’ve seen the pictures of your fetish/ I mean festive holiday obsession. Clearly, you already had anything I could send. (Probably several of them.) I think we can all be glad I bought myself a sweater instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s lovely that you now have a self-indulgent sweater. Good on ya. But trust, one can never have too many Department 56 tchotchkes, regardless of the possible repetition. And if you send me enough of them (hint, hint), I might reconfigure part of the Village and christen it Taubtown. I envision said enclave being inhabited by clever artsy types who write lovely stories and produce their own cheese…


  5. I can’t wait for part deux. I laughed and at the same time sympathised because I have been there (not the festive village – I love to look at them but I would never have the patience (or time) set them up and take them down) with that whole tree bit. I am very much a minimalist and as I get older I am getting worse, so very few decorations over here. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The mere decorating of the tree, alone, used to take me forever to complete. I have hundreds of ornaments, and therefore only a small contingent could be utilized in any given year. The selection process was long and involved, with much debate. Now? If I even put a tree up (which doesn’t always happen) I go the minimalist angle. Just the white twinkling lights (which are already embedded in the fake tree), and that’s it. I miss the grand show, but there’s also something equally satisfying with just the white lights, blinking faithfully and contentedly…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Every year I organize the Christmas cupboard and every year when I open it again, it’s somehow become a disaster zone. And we’ve been opting for a very small live potted tree these past few years but I still manage to stab the needles under my nails a la bamboo splint torture as I’m attempting to decorate. Christmas is beautiful but painful!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I remember reading and enjoying the previous version of this holiday story, but I like the new and improved version even more. One suggestion: is it possible that Aunt Charlene is related to Amelia or Jimmy? J.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Here I am stealing a moment to try and catch up somewhat. I had saved the email notification for easy return since I am so directionally technologically challenged who knows where I may have ended up otherwise. I store nothing up among the rafters of my house, but my mother does. Up until a few years ago and she quit decorating, it was my job to climb that cursed ladder into the darkness that was her attic. In looking back now, I realize that my family had some inner warning system that alerted them that it was time and they all vanish quicker than any endangered species. I then managed to carry everything down, which trust me as I know you do, there was a real fear factor in that act. I was sad but also relieved that last time I carried everything down to be moved to another location closer to the ground where family could see if there was anything they wanted to add to their collection. And my tree is another story entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do the same thing with those “new post” email notifications, if I want to be sure that I respond to a particular share. (Otherwise, if I don’t respond immediately (to that share or, really, anything requiring a response) I will almost immediately forget about it. My short-term memory is clearly Swiss cheese, other than fundamentals for survival like “take my billfold if I leave the house” along with “make sure I’m wearing pants if I do leave”. Sadly, those emails often move further and further down my inbox, getting quite dusty. But I will respond to them. Some year.

      Your next-to-last-sentence is wonderfully heart-wrenching, from a writing perspective. (I hope you take that the right way. If not, I’m sorry.)

      Our attic is massive, running the whole length of our sprawling ranch-style home. (Attics are tiny in most newer homes, those built since, oh, the 70s or so. Younger generations have no idea. Come to think of it, don’t you live in an older home? Possibly your mother’s? Near your mother’s? Seems you’ve told me something like that, but my Swiss cheese memory is short-circuiting again.) Anyway, I’ve been here for decades, nearly half my life, and some of the things shoved in my attic have been there since day two or some such. I have no idea what I’m going to find (or what someone else may have to find) when it comes time to clear that mess out…


      • I live in the house I grew up in. We bought it from my folks when mom bought her brother’s half of her parent’s house which is right next door. About the length of a football field away. This house was built in the early sixties. The house mom and dad are in now was built many years before that by my grandfather and his brothers.
        Its the same with mom’s attic. When I was up there getting the stuff down for the last time it was a time capsule moment. I kept getting sidetracked looking at some of the photos and other things she has tucked away up there. Even brought a few photos home.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved this, every word, and I almost choked on my tea when you pointed out the fake tree NEVER getting back in the box it came in. My family had one of those trees as a kid, and it was always a pain to disassemble the thing…until one year my father threw out half the branches. Problem solved, he said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My father did the same, with his modifying of the childhood tree. He thought it brilliant to toss aside the entire middle section of the segmented tree pole, along with the related branches. So our triple-decker tree became a double, with a decided difference between the slender upper section and the much more rotund lower section. It did not look right, at all. But it was still a tree, and that’s all it really took to over-stimulate us little urchins…


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