When I was growing up in Danville, Virginia, decorating for Christmas was always a very big deal.
My Mother’s goal in life, for several years, was to win the Temple Terrace Women’s Club Home Decorating Contest. Even though she was President of the Club, for several years, she still never won. And she was not above “putting in the fix” if she could have figured out how to do so.
I was never quite sure what the Temple Terrace Woman’s Club did. Our neighborhood was called Temple Terrace and we never really knew why…All I know is my Mother was inordinately proud of the fact that the Club once voted on something by placing their ballots in one of her brass trash cans and everyone commented on how clean it was. Thanks to the maid, I might add.
The Temple Terrace Women’s Club had a dish towel sale one year. I don’t know what it was supposed to benefit, but we had several cases of dish towels in our basement for several years. Some were still there even after 50 years…
Anyway, the whole production always began with unpacking the Christmas decorations that were stored under the stairs behind a fake, paper fireplace.
She had this cardboard fireplace and she would drag it out every Christmas season and place against the wall in the basement. She would always look meaningfully at my Father and say “Maybe someday I’ll have a real fireplace.” We were all sick to death of that ratty, tacky paper one and her dragging it out each year…He eventually gave in, remodeled the basement and built her a real one.
While she knew the Club went for simplicity, she never could quite restrain herself. She would always place the wreaths on the front window and door, but she couldn’t stop there. There had to be more.
My sister and I were no help. We were always fascinated by the houses that put up lots of lights and stuff. We would push for that look.
My Father was the only one with a sense of restraint. I don’t know if it was his FFV heritage or because he was cheap. When we would point to the gaudily decorated houses and ask to do the same, he would say: “I’m not hanging a bunch of crap on my house so a bunch of white trash can ride by and wonder if we can pay our electric bill in January.”
He limited her to three white spotlights, no matter how hard she fought…
That lack of simplicity is what cost her The Title.
This was during the secular ’60’s and she had this plastic Manager Scene she just had to use. The Holy Family all had light bulbs inside them so you could see them from the street. My Father thought it was the tackiest thing he had ever seen, so he just drank his way through her annual decorating binge.
The rest of use would have been just as happy dancing around a pagan bonfire celebrating Yule. To us, the true meaning of Christmas revolved around shopping, presents and parties. We never quite understood her focus on the Manger Scene.
After she got her real fireplace, she insisted my Father use some of the logs to make a backdrop for her nativity scene. Then she would want to move it around to make sure it got maximum exposure with her limited number of spotlights.
I’ll never forget one year we were decorating in 20 degree weather, my Father was drinking beer and she kept asking the log Manger backdrop to be moved and reassembled. My Father finally cracked and said: “Goddamn it, Lou. Make up your mind where you want the damn manger or I’m going to leave them all laying in the yard and tell people the Manson Family got them.”
Her one concession was one year she admitted: “I think they are going for the simple, Williamsburg look. I think we need to take the light bulb out of the Baby Jesus.”
She also had to have candles in the front windows. She had some very pretty candelabras in the windows in my sister’s room. She bought them and replaced the blue bulbs they came with with red ones, that being her favorite color. I won’t question the appropriateness of putting red lights in her daughter’s bedroom window as I’m sure she never thought of that…
One year, I was reading about alternate religions in ChildCraft and discovered Hanukkah. I realized these “candelabras” were really Menorahs. I was so excited. I ran to my Mother and explained it all to her.
She went very pale. She had been using these Menorahs for years and now she was afraid people would think we were Jewish. How they might think we might be Jewish with the plastic Manager Scene, I’m not quite sure. But, in those days, religious confusion could get one run out of the Temple Terrace Woman’s Club.
That was the beginning of my fascination with Judaism. Hanukkah sounded like much more fun than Christmas because you got presents every night for eight days.
Over the years, the decorating became less important. She lost interest once there was no prize to be won- or lost.
She just didn’t seem to ever enjoy decorating for the sake of decorating and celebrating a festive time of year just for the festivities themselves. She lost interest and started talking about Christmas being a burden.
I hope we never hit that point in life.
We love to decorate and enjoy this special time of year. We have our Christmas decorations, our Menorahs and our Kwanza decorations. We also are aware of the pagan significance of the December holidays and celebrate that, too.
To me, that’s what it’s all about. The celebration of the birth of a religion that tells people to love they neighbor as themselves and to do unto others as you would have them do to you. The celebration of the miracle of lights. The celebration of a bountiful harvest and a celebration of nature.
Celebration isn’t about decorations, but they sure do help….
Who gives a damn about the prizes?