“DECK the halls with boughs of holly,” I chant to myself, winding strings of twinkly rainbow lights around the biggest Christmas tree we’ve purchased in the history of our marriage. “ ’TIS the season to be jolly,” I sing, alternating red and green lights on our front bushes, and risking my neck to cover our favorite outside tree with white lights. “DON we now our gay apparel,” I carol, carefully arranging Christmas cards, stuck willy-nilly on the fridge in better years, over an arch between our kitchen and living room, where we can see them whenever we pass by.
This holiday season, we are decorating like never before. I’m whipping out the sewing machine to stitch every red and green remnant in the fabric box into a tree skirt, stockings, and Christmas napkins; I bought a delicious-smelling Frasier fir candle to perfume the parts of the house the tree can’t reach; we’re making the cutest kind of Christmas sugar cookies, just for us to eat at home. To judge by my neighbors, whose houses seem to sport new light-up reindeers and Homer Simpson blow-up Santas every time we pass, and my colleagues, who are tackling ribbon-related craft projects they’d never have considered in 2019, I’m not alone.
And I say, to everyone who can: Decorate! Within the bounds of your budget, Decorate! Hopefully with a bit of environmental consciousness, Decorate! As your energy allows, Decorate! This year, it’s your duty as an American.
Earlier this fall I interviewed a political scientist who studies campaign yard signs about the emotional sign wars of 2020. Anand Sokhey pointed out that people were probably all the more alert to their neighbors’ sign displays this year because of how constrained our lives have become. “We’re getting to see and know our neighbors,” he said, “and what else do we have to do but take walks?” But if yard signs can provoke some uncomfortable feelings in neighbors who don’t agree with your political choice, a house with nice Christmas lights can only be good. In our neck of the woods, it gets dark around 4:30 p.m., and we like a good night walk to look at the evening stars and the frosty sunset. We can’t go inside their houses, but this year, the lights lining our neighbors’ bushes and driveways feel like proof of life.
Inside our home, holiday decor is a nice visual reminder of the continuity of tradition, even as many of us are missing out on “real Christmas” this year. I can’t see my family, but I can see the ornaments on the tree, some of which are nursery school projects from 1983. I can look at our stockings, made by my mom. I can even do something my family would never—buy a light-up tree-topper star—and cackle internally at how tacky they’d think I was being. And we can share photos of our decor in the family group chat, to keep track of how each other’s Advents are developing.
What percentage of my will to deck the halls comes from rediverted holiday energy that’s usually spent planning and executing the annual pilgrimage to my parents’ house—now canceled? What percentage comes from my daughter, who is about to turn 4, finally understands what Christmas is, and is utterly in love with every scrap of wrapping paper, bit of cookie dough, and Christmas book? What percentage is some kind of deeper spiritual need to manifest anything that feels light and joyful, in the darkest December any of us can remember? I’m not sure, but the drive is real.
The only problem with decorating for Christmas like it’s your side hustle is the January withdrawal that’s coming. When I was small, I hated taking the Christmas decorations down so much that it became a problem for my parents. Somewhere there’s a photo of me from the year that my mom decided to decorate for Mozart’s birthday (that’s Jan. 27, in case you’re wondering) as a ploy to distract me from my post-holiday woe. Even now, she has a special suite of red napkins and plates she replaces the Christmas stuff with, so that she can ease herself into the part of the Northern winter that doesn’t even have the holidays to recommend it.
This year, January and February are going to be even more challenging than usual, and I foresee many tears at our house (real ones from the kid, internal ones from the adults) when the tree has to come down. That’s why I bought a set of suncatcher crystals and a pack of kite paper to make window stars—I’ll put it under the tree for myself. Let Jan. 2 hit and the clock start ticking on the Christmas things. I’ll be ready.