As a second child I learned quickly that there’s simply no point in competing. My elder sibling would always be faster, stronger, bigger, more coordinated. I’m not complaining—it was one of life’s trade-offs. While Resi might have been better at pretty much everything, because she was the first child she drew the unceasing critical scrutiny of our parents, which allowed me a freedom to evolve that she never had. Sorry about that, sister.
Flash forward years and years. In Sugar Land it was a tradition in our neighborhood to have a progressive holiday dinner. As it was our first year there I wasn’t expected to act as one of the hostesses. I probably took something like a side or a dessert—not important. What’s relevant is that my spirit of competition, which had died an early death, was, as a result of this first progressive dinner in our new location, reborn.
The homes were lovely, and most people had similar good taste (in fact, so homogenous were the People of the Cul de Sac that it took me years to tell one neighbor from another). As David and I walked into our neighbors’ Christmas homes, I was impressed, amazed, awed, by the abundance of Christmas decorations. These women had gone crazy with their bows and beads. Not one surface was bare. Garland and glitter covered every countertop, every table. Candles and candy canes, Santas and snowmen, poinsettias and pinecones. I could alliterate Christmas nouns all day. One woman collected nativity dioramas—she had at least thirty of them; a couple were as large as furniture; several were small enough to fit into the palm of a hand. One home had a fully decorated Christmas tree in every room.
In the future, I would be expected to host one of the courses. People would judge my Christmas home next year the same way I was judging their Christmas homes this year. The wives would share critical observations with their husbands. And the next day the women, and also the men, would meet their neighbors at the mailboxes, and they’d trade comments on my dedication to the season as demonstrated by my display of holiday decorations.
This wasn’t about the spirit of the season. This wasn’t about the birth of Christ. Christmas in Sugar Land was all about the stuff.
I could not, must not, be found lacking.
A fanatic was born. I, a person who has no patience with collections and no affinity with collectors, became obsessed with having as much of one thing as possible. Antique shops, fairs, flea markets and, of course, Michaels—all have happily taken my money in exchange for tree ornaments, snow globes, themed music boxes, Spode, and red plaid draping fabric. And every year, on one of the days between Thanksgiving and the end of the weekend, David and I haul out the boxes and boxes and boxes full of all the paraphernalia I’ve accumulated over the years, a ludicrous amount of fake greenery, shiny balls, flickering lights, fat red candles, mangers, stars, and Santa Clauses; and we turn on the Christmas music—the station that plays Bing Crosby and Doris Day and Burl Ives—and commit to as much time as it takes to achieve the perfect artful arrangement in built-in shelves and atop chests of more colorful Christmas stuff than a sane person would want to see in a single lifetime.
And in five weeks we’ll start talking about how it’s time to take it all down and put it away. We’ll dread the work. Changing back is never as fun as changing to.