Making Spirits Bright
I’ve been thinking about Virginia Wolfe’s classic novel, Mrs. Dalloway, which depicts, in painstaking detail, the careful preparation for a party: the food, the guest list, the flowers--these mostly female tasks that went-- and have gone--mostly unnoticed, even derided as unimportant. Clarissa’s childhood sweetheart once told her she “had the makings of a perfect hostess.” It was not a compliment.
Each detail is lovingly captured in the book--fretting about the invitees, who will talk to the wallflowers? Etc. The point is that making an occasion is a complicated work of art.
I’ve been ramping up to Christmas for almost a month, baking and freezing scones and Christmas cookies, stollen and dumpling stuffing. To say nothing of nut brittles, which by this time, I can now truthfully say I hate, delicious and fiendishly addictive, though they are.
Though the up-ramping is exhausting, it is also a wonderful distraction from short days, bad weather and worse driving conditions. Better, far, than counting the days until spring. You are stage managing, are you not? Building sets, adding props, hoping that by creating a lovely backdrop, that people will have fun and be happy together.
Though I may have delusions of grandeur regarding my menus and clean linens, there is no more important prop than the Christmas tree.
In the last few years, the tree has fallen to my sons to mastermind. Usually we do it before Christmas Eve, just to enjoy the fragrance and the extra light over the darkest days. But we were waiting for the arrival of our elder son and his girlfriend. They’d both enjoy the tree hunt.
Here’s our tradition: Our generally very laid back younger son is a perfectionist when it comes to trees. You go out with him and he will not consider a tree for the first three hours. He ignores even the most worthy specimens, barely deigning them a glance. They are all dismissed as misshapen, too short, scrawny. As your eyebrows are about to freeze and drop off, you begin the think that not having a tree isn’t the worst thing in the world. Far worse would be the snapping off of your frozen digits, which seems immanent. Some years, the tree committee has come home then, all furious with each other, needing some cocoa and mediation.
But this year, we had my elder son’s girlfriend along, for whom it was a lark to be out cutting down a tree. Not only that, the Perfectionist has his permit, and he drove. This could have led to a twelve hour search, what with him in no discomfort or hurry at all. But it didn’t. The combination of the girlfriend’s wonderful sense of humor and the relatively mild temperatures may have done the trick. We had fun. There were no tears.
We found a tree, a 20 foot behemoth which, when tied on top of the car, made the latter look like a matchbox toy. We brought it home and stood it up beside the house, which it dwarfed as well. Off came another three feet, although everyone but the Perfectionist lobbied for five. We slid open the glass door in the living room, jammed the tree through it, trying not to topple plants and furniture within it ten foot radius. I think it was ailing, with its bald branch tips, and so I felt slightly less guilty cutting it down.
The girlfriend suggested (brilliantly) we put it up by the balcony, and tie it to same, so we could decorate it from two floors. The elder son whittled the top down enough to accommodate the star, which missed the peak of the ceiling by about two inches. There it was, the absolute best tree we have ever had, all 13 feet of it. We trimmed the bare ends of branches, put on our few strings of lights added ornaments and will happily circumnavigate it for the next few weeks, past Epiphany, until brushing by it causes such a rain of needles we decide it’s time for it to go onto the compost heap.
Our spirits are brightened by our new giant, and by the unscripted harmony with which we brought it in. All told, it was a party.