When I was a little girl, it wasn’t Christmas until my mother dragged up the nativity music box from the basement. It was a big plastic replica of the manger scene, complete with cow. When you wound the key in the back it played Silent Night, and it smelled like a cross between a new Barbie and the dank cool air of the cellar. I loved it dearly. My mother put up with it for probably 10 years, and then one day in a fit of purging it disappeared.
I was remembering that nativity scene as I looked around my house today. These days when I close my eyes and picture Christmas, I see white walls, a simple green tree with pine cones, maybe a burlap skirt. A few plain green wreaths scattered about. One or two starfish. Something like this:
When I open my eyes however, that is not what I see. I see holiday throws on every surface, a flurry of hand-cut snowflakes dangling from the balcony, an overabundance of nutcrackers dancing across my mantel and a talking chipmunk, a dragon/egg warmer and a mouse holding a holiday tete-a-tete. This is not a harmonious mix.
Some days I long to open up that Pottery Barn catalog and disappear into that faux serenity, that magical lifestyle where toys stay in their tastefully monogrammed bins, champagne glasses are always full and sparkling, and singing chipmunks cannot be found. But then my kids build a manger out of magnatiles, or hijack baby Jesus and leave a ransom note, or pore over the Christmas books, reading favorite lines aloud to each other, and I think those perfectly decorated rooms look just a little bit lonely.
Christmas, at least here, is about the plastic managers. It’s about loving the imperfect items for what they represent. It’s about an electric current of joy so strong that it powers the whole holiday season, waking us all with the excitement of possibility, making the house shine more than any tinsel or lights ever could. And that’s so much better than any catalog still-life.