For our first married Christmas in Arlington we had a little potted tree with about six ornaments. (Also, a really bad camera.) But we were still “the kids,” and Christmas consisted of spending Christmas Eve with my in-laws, then driving 11 hours on Christmas Day to have dinner with my parents. So, our own tree was not a big player.
In Bolivia, the tree got a little taller, but it was still dwarfed by all the gifts. I believe that was the year I decided that if I was a grown-up, I had to send Christmas cards. So, I took on the task of collecting addresses and sending out dozens of cards by military post. To my husband’s family as well. Because Christmas cards are the woman’s job, right? Said the voices in my head.
For some reason, I don’t have photos of our trees in Guatemala, but I remember that they were slightly larger potted pines of some kind. In Lusaka, the tree got bigger, but was especially weird-looking and hosted an odd fungus. That was the year I got tired of not having any real ornaments, and so I made some. I made an angel for the treetop, and stockings for the mantel as well. (I was SO bored at that post and got amazingly creative!)
In sub-tropical San Salvador, we finally gave up and bought a fake tree. It was for the best, because a real tree of any kind would certainly have gotten moldy and made me sneeze like crazy. We also had two kids by then, so we felt they should have a “normal” American Christmas tree. Which I guess meant plastic!
On to Springfield, Virginia, where we used the fake tree again because we couldn’t afford a real one. I can see that the number of ornaments had increased exponentially by then. This DC tour marked the first time my whole family came to visit for Christmas. So, by this point I was doing all the decorating, family and Santa shopping, and card-sending, plus cooking for the multitude.
Then to Prague, at which point I became a veritable Martha Stewart. The whole house was decorated, cookies were baked, gingerbread houses were constructed, teachers, neighbors, and my husband’s employees received home-baked gifts, and I started putting up Christmas slide show websites in addition to cards. I really don’t know how I got it all done. We also stocked up on Christmas ornaments from the Czech Republic and Germany, doubling—possibly tripling—our stash. And finally, after the first year, we donated the plastic tree and started buying real ones. This made the cats SO happy.
Back to Reston, Virginia and more domestic goddessery. See the gift baskets on top of the cabinet? Yep, that would be my handiwork. At least by this time I had trimmed the card list down to immediate family only, and just sent a link to our Christmas slide show website to all our friends by email.
Our second Christmas in Reston was just nuts. I sent my husband out to buy a tree, and look what he came back with. Good grief. Of course, I decorated it, because that’s the wife’s job, right?
That was the same year that my mother in law decided that we were having a holiday family reunion. At our house. Did I mention that my husband comes from a very big, noisy, family? So, in addition to all the above-mentioned duties, I cooked two enormous Christmas dinners, one for my family, and one for the horde. And then collapsed with a very large glass of
2005 marked the apex of my Christmassing, for lack of a better word. At that point, I decided that something had to give.
The next Christmas, the tree was maybe 1/3 the size of the Beast. I decided that not ALL the ornaments had to go on the tree every year.The kids were well out of the Santa stage and into the “just give me gift cards, or better yet, cash” stage. The teachers got Starbucks gift cards. I might have mailed five Christmas cards. I cooked one big dinner for my family and my mother- and father-in-law, but that was it. I informed the family that I would decorate the tree, but they had better UNdecorate it. And I meant it. My liberation was underway.
I will say, during our seven years in Reston my husband gladly took over the increasingly elaborate job of decorating the outside of the house. By 2009, you could probably see it from space. It was awesome.
By the time we got to Vienna, I was completely over cards of any kind. The Christmas websites morphed into a few photos posted on Facebook. I was still kind of wiped out from the DC move (a bit homesick too) and feeling stroppy. So, I told my husband that since we had no outside of the house to decorate, it was his turn to do the tree. Christmas trees are crazy expensive in Austria, so lucky for him, that was the year the tree shrunk quite a bit. But with no family in town, that Christmas wasn’t really about our home, anyway. It was about Christmas markets and going out to lunch and a museum on Christmas day. And that was not only OK, but quite relaxing for me.
The Christmas after that, we didn’t even have a tree because we knew we’d be traveling. Luckily, a small tree came with the apartment in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. And that was OK, too.
This year, we have come full circle and are living in an Arlington apartment again, a few blocks from our newlywed abode. I did pack a few ornaments in the air freight, and they were just enough for our two-foot grocery store tree that took 15 minutes to decorate. I did all my shopping online already. We’re not doing stockings, which means three less stockings I have to fill. (Because filling stockings is the mom’s job, right?)
We are visiting my family in Nashville for Christmas, and my son is spending the holiday in Vienna with his Austrian girlfriend. We’ll miss him, but it just means that Christmas is changing again—and that is OK.
I’ve grown to love our little trees. I have boxes and boxes of Christmas ornaments in my Warsaw shipment, from every country we have been posted to. I think next year I will either give some away or pack them up for the kids to have later. It’s time for a downsized, empty-nester Christmas plan to suit the next phase of our lives. I’m ready for that.
But the Santas? The Santa collection will always be there. From German nutcrackers to Pez containers, they never fail to make me happy. All I have to do is unpack them and scatter them around the house. Now, that’s what I call Christmas.