Memories That Light You Up

The decorations are up! It didn’t take as long as I remember to stand up a tree, wrap some garland, and place a few accessories around the fireplace. In fact, it took exactly two hours. Boom. Finished. That’s it. No more. Just enough to brighten things up with lights and favorite memories. Not enough to feel like it’s overboard.

Probably more than a minimalist would do.

We had a very minimalist holiday season last year. I bought a $7 plastic lighted snowman and a living wreath made of ivy, then called it a done deal.

My husband I were just over it. I’m not even sure why, but neither of us were in the mood to do all of the “work” that it takes to drag the boxes down from the attic, untangle the mass of lights only to find that half of them work if we’re lucky, and dig through other boxes to reveal junk we don’t want or need anymore. It just seemed like more than we were willing to do, even if we kept it to the inside only.

So we asked the boy (then 10) if he took issue with us skipping the decorations. When he heard there would be no impact to him receiving gifts, he was totally fine with it.

I was too. Until late December.

I made it all the way through Christmas without issue, I thought. I even found it funny that we had his gifts stacked under a house plant.

But I missed the twinkle and soft glow of the lights. There is no doubt that I experience “seasonal affective disorder” in the gray winter months. I took for granted how much those lights help to offset the gloominess. Yes, I have a “happy light” that I keep at my desk in the winter, and while it does a great job of replicating sunlight, there’s something about the soft glow of those lights on a string that just perk me up.

While unpacking everything this afternoon, I also realize I missed the process.

Something I’ve tried to avoid before and have been quite successful at.

My most glorious year of avoidance came the first Christmas that I was living alone, having recently broken up with my perpetual fiance. We had been together for eight years and suffice it to say, I was really over that too. I mean, when an engagement drags on for so long that you don’t even care anymore to plan a wedding, it’s a good indicator that it’s time to just move on.

Being newly single with a load of credit card debt provided me the time and the motivation to carry what was in essence two full time jobs. Not just any full time jobs, mind you. During the day, I worked in a call center for nationwide catalog distributor (pre-Amazon, and the Internet was still in its infancy). At night, I loaded trucks for a leading shipping company.

And so all of the phone orders that I took by day would land in the hub at night in the form of packages to load. Of course, the pressure was higher at my day job during the holiday season. Angry customers screaming at me over an item being out of stock, proclaiming that I had ruined Christmas. Ruined it! And the hours were longer at the shipping company because when you work night sort, your shift doesn’t end until the last package is loaded.

Imagine. This was before Amazon and we were slammed night after night.

The beauty of both of my gigs was that they were M-F only. I was definitely fortunate in that regard, but even as young as I was, I frequently ended up sleeping through the entire weekend from sheer exhaustion.

My glorious year of avoidance looked like this (and I told everyone about it):

“All that Christmas means to me is a day off of work. I am going nowhere. I am sitting at home in my underwear with a bottle of Jack Daniels and watching It’s A Wonderful Life.”

dreamcatcher near plants
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

Mind you, this was a time when I had to really plan for this. Network television wasn’t looping that movie on repeat like they do now. I had to go to Blockbuster and rent it. Ha! There’s a memory for some of us.

Yes, I did just that. It was everything I had hoped it would be.

Then came the years that followed of accumulating more stuff, receiving memories in the form of ornaments from family, feeling joyful about decorating, enjoying every moment of the process, even decorating for friends.

I loved everything about decorating as it made me feel closer to my dad, who died in 1999. As a freelance landscaper, his wintertime gigs included decorating houses inside and out. The times that I helped him with his contracts, I recall being awestruck by the fact that someone wouldn’t want to put up their own Christmas tree.

Now I get it!

The holiday season has become jam packed with perceived obligations, multiple events on the daily, and all of the shopping – so many people seem to be rushing and no one has time. I hear a lot of that in November and December, “I don’t have enough time.” Full stop.

Part of that may have come into play with my willingness to forgo decorating last year. I didn’t want to play into that frenzied mindset. It may have been a way to reconnect with my youthful self who just wanted to give the whole holiday season the middle finger that year. Because people can be assholes.

Like the woman who screamed at me that I had ruined her Christmas. When it happened, I thought, “Well, if a jacket being out of stock ruins it all for you, you have bigger issues than I can fix.”

All of these years later, when I think about that woman, I only feel empathy. Of course, I don’t know her story. I have no idea what kind of stress or pressure she was carrying over having the perfect gift – whether it was self-induced or external. What I think now is that she could have used the current version of me in her life.

I have spent a lot of my time on this earth (some would say far too much time) looking back. Thinking about past events, recalling them, and wondering what I could have done differently. I have allowed myself to feel sadness or regret probably beyond a level that any human needs to undergo. Yes, self-induced.

Today I had a new experience with memories. Instead of reflecting on the painful parts or feeling a sense of emptiness and loss that loved ones are no longer with me in this physical realm, I felt honored. I felt at peace. I felt gratitude for having known them.

I know exactly how I did that.

green pine leaves with brown rope
Photo by Element5 Digital on

Every time that I pulled an ornament of sentimental value (the best value of all) out of one of the boxes to place on the tree, I held in thoughts all of my love for that person. In so doing, instead of a void, I felt fulfilled.

There’s the golden trumpet that Dad left for me. It’s the first ornament my son pulled out of the box and he marched around with it making annoying little trumpet noises for a full minute.

There are the two macaroni angels my maternal grandmother made. As a child, I remembered her as sophisticated and classy.

There is the ornament engraved with my name and my husband’s for our second Christmas together. I remember how we picked it out at Things Remembered at the mall.

There is the boy’s first Christmas ornament with his smiling mug, only two months old. As weary new parents, I remember us buying that one at Michael’s as a total impulse buy – add your own pic. My husband saw it first.

There is the apple that I wrote my name on eighth grade with a paint marker. I remember Mrs. Adkins had me do one for the whole class because I had the best penmanship. I wonder if anyone else still has theirs.

There is the needlepoint Christmas mouse that my sister made for me years ago. I remember she sent it wrapped in tissue, very fancy.

There is the dream catcher ornament sent as a free gift by St. Joseph Indian School because I donated $20 to them back in the early 2000’s. The boy loves that one.

There is the brass wire angel sporting a tag with my mom’s name handwritten on it. I think it was from her mother, so I inherited it during one of her many purges over the past decade.

There are the three dimensional wax stars in every color with glitter sprinkles that my crazy Uncle Tim made.

There are the older, more faded, and smaller three dimensional wax stars with glitter sprinkles that Tim told me were made by his mother (“Ma”). A couple of them aren’t particularly pretty. I realize that she would totally laugh about that and I give each of them a prominent spot.

I did all of this without Jack Daniels or chardonnay. It was very different. I feel that I was able to be more present with the process.

It wasn’t a chore at all. It was glorious.

Memories are so very important to who we are and who we become as a person. The memories you choose to reflect upon and how you choose to process them are key.

I have memories of the Christmas season just being an exhausting and soul crushing experience that I wanted to avoid at all costs.

I also have memories of amazing mornings with our son (who continues to blow me away by sleeping in on December 25th!).

And now I have quite a bit of a soft glow that warms my home and my psyche. The kind of light that makes more memories.

Would you like to be coached on this or another area of your life? Book a free consultation with me here.


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