Christmas Decorating Is No Joke

I don’t know how my mom did this for so long.

Yes, that’s a pumpkin in the back. I’m working on it.

I always pictured my first Christmas with my boyfriend would be spent at his parents’ sprawling house, which is across the street from what used to be a golf course where hundreds of geese hang out during the middle of their migration. I have no idea what his parents’ Christmas decoration situation is like, but I always pictured it as elegant, if not somewhat very Italian. Or maybe for our first Christmas together, we would fly down to my dad’s farm in Tennessee, even though my dad has never decorated for Christmas beyond a wreath on his front door. At least my boyfriend would enjoy mudding or birding. Alternatively — and this has always been my preference— we would drive down to my mom’s place, which is not really about the location since every year or two she moves to a new state, but all about my mom’s dedication to making Christmas feel special.

However, the coronavirus doesn’t give a damn about plans or dreams, so we make do. Our first Christmas together will be spent in our Brooklyn apartment, just the two of us. I don’t have any qualms about this, since for the past eight years my Christmases have usually just been my just mom and I, but this year the pressure to pull off a perfect Christmas feels insurmountable. Of course, all that pressure is self-created (my boyfriend says all he cares about is keeping our families safe this holiday season), but nonetheless making Christmas feel not only tolerable but fun — like my mom always had no matter what we were going through— is important to me.

She’d make flan and hot cocoa on Christmas Eve and blast Reggaeton until it was time to open up presents at midnight. The presents were always small, but thoughtful: comfy socks, a cute PJ set, a new notebook, whatever I needed but couldn’t bring myself to buy. The next morning, we’d wake up, have some tamales and snuggle up to watch Christmas movies (Die Hard, anyone?). If my mom made magic happen during homelessness, during a divorce, during a pulmonary embolism, then I can’t see why I can’t do the same during a global pandemic.

But something I’ve never really appreciated until now was her taste and labor. Every part of the house had a touch of Christmas, whether it be a cinnamon-scented candle, a frosted glass bowl of decorative pine cones, garland wrapped around the mantel, or small deer figurines. The tree itself was bathed in cranberry reds and shimmering golds, courtesy of decades-old ornaments and ribbons. It’d take my mom at least two days to get the whole house done, which she’d always do around Thanksgiving with feverous rage. Because I was a dumb high schooler, I didn’t see why my mom was so angry and stressed when it came time to put the tree up, but I think now I get it. It’s exhausting carrying all those heavy boxes, fluffing up the tree branches, meticulously arranging the ornaments so they catch the light in the right way — and to do it all by yourself. At least when I was living at home, I could help her in whatever way I could, but when I left for college, the weight of our holiday happiness rested on her shoulders alone.

Now, that weight is on me. Except I have zero clue what I’m doing. I spent a week trying to figure out if we should get a real tree or an artificial tree. I also agonized over what kind of ornaments and pillows we should get and how we should put up our lights. Did y’all know that some ornaments don’t come with ornament hooks? I sure as hell didn’t! And I know, Christmas is not about the looks or the material objects, it’s about the time spent with those you love. But at the same time, we’re up against expectations of Christmas during the Normal Times, when it was okay to kiss your mom on the cheek and give your baby cousin a crushing hug. It feels like the only semblance of normalcy will be through our decor, so yeah, I’m going to bust my ass trying to make my apartment look like a Pottery Barn catalog so that it looks good on Zoom. I just hope that my efforts will translate into a holiday experience both my boyfriend and I will cherish (and don’t worry, I have some actual activities planned, too).

That’s all to say, go call your mom and tell her thank you. Christmas decorating really is no joke.

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writing about climate, culture & comida wherever I go

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