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There are the infamous villains of Christmas: Scrooge, The Grinch and Mr. Potter. But what about the lesser-known enfants terrible: The ordinary moms, and some dads, turned Christmas Control Freaks (CCFs) who can crush the spirit of the season through the relentless pursuit of elegance and good taste?
With Dickens, Seuss and Capra long gone, it’s up to me to tell this untold story.
For my part, I am a reformed CCF having had an awakening last year during a bout of brinkmanship with my son, and an army of nutcrackers, who brought me to the realization that Christmas—including the decorating—is, in fact, for kids.
While I was lost in deep contemplation, staring at the marble mantelpiece in the living room, Joseph had quietly begun to unpack the bins and place things around the house.
Emerging from my trance, I discovered the boy had usurped my A-list ornaments and decorations for second-stringers: primary school crafts with glue globules and other inherited goo-gas too unsightly to be seen but too precious to be thrown away.
He’d also released the nutcrackers from their bento-like boxes and a great Tolkien battle was set to erupt on the carpet in the dining room... if I didn’t beat them to it.
It was the first year on record when my son wanted to have a meaningful say in what went where. This, of course, struck me as humbug. I spewed forth a volcanic rant of phonic spasms ranging from, “These may look like toys, but they are not toys!” to “Put that back!” to “That doesn’t go there!” to the ever popular, “Just let me do it!”
I paused to take a breath and that’s when Joe said, “You never listen to my ideas.”
His voice was tinged with a kind of Cindy-Lou Hoo sweetness which initialized a system-wide refresh of my motherboard. With that, and a rum-and-egg-nog, I eventually conceded the carpet in the dining room. I told Joe it could be occupied territory, for one night only, and then watched as the great battle unfolded.
The next morning I inspected the wooden soldiers who had fared surprisingly well. One fella lost his beard, but that was the extent of the casualties. Then I did some covert un-decorating and rearranging.
But the seeds were sown: My CCF had been put on notice.
Let’s face it, ever since the blonde prophet from Westport Connecticut delivered unto us a hardcover first edition of “A Martha Stewart Christmas” we’ve sacrificed at least some of the joy of the season for the pain of perfection.
Through the years, we’ve shunned garish satin balls, repented of tinsel icicles and bulbous, coloured lights, and, in so doing, we’ve relegated to the dustbin much of the cool, and virtually unbreakable, Christmas-bling that made decorating so much fun for kids in the first place.
You can still find a few non-conformists with this kitschy stuff but, mostly, they’ve been driven underground to basement rec rooms where they play second-fiddle to someone with more antiseptic aspirations who rules the upstairs.
Gradually, we’ve become the two-tree people for whom Christmas is twice the work and only half the fun.
The Martha loyalists will, no doubt, call me a heretic, and say that she delivered us from the sin of tackiness. Besides, Europeans and their descendents have been doing irrational things with Christmas decorations for centuries—Martha didn’t invent that concept. Let’s not forget the Victorians, who brought highly flammable dead trees indoors and put lit candles all over them.
It can’t have been much fun for those kids—shivering in the cold and damp in their knickers and bonnets watching a bucket brigade try to save their burning mansions. By comparison, I suppose watching their parents harangue about the hierarchy of Christmas decorations is a cake-walk for today’s children.
But that doesn’t mean we should give CCFs a free pass. Leaving kids out of the very traditions that we say are for them just because they won’t do things the right way makes no sense at all.
There is indeed a less totalitarian approach, and it goes like this: “I gave up control of the tree this year.”
This is an excerpt from a Facebook post made by a trail-blazing neighbour of mine who put her young sons in charge of decorating this year. The first thing that struck me about the photo she shared was that there were actual candy canes dangling from the tree’s branches. I can’t remember the last time I saw that.
At our house, the tree was a collaborative effort, but I did give Joe the marble mantelpiece in the formal living room to do with as he pleased. In short order he had showcased all of our hand-me-down decorations: The family of knitted choristers, the crafty reindeer made from sticks, an old elf with curly black shoes, and a Plasticine nativity.
Looking at it now, I can honestly say… the Waldorf Astoria should be so lucky.