Oh, Tannenbaum

Catherine Salton It was November 29, and I could hear the book humming. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving.  It was officially Christmas season. And Martha Stewart was calling to me from the bookshelf in my bedroom.

I knew it was Christmas mania kicking in: the overwhelming desire to decorate, bake, and craft handmade gifts even though I have no time to do these things and no talent for them anyway. I blame my parents. At our house, every December was fraught with excitement, some events more galvanizing than others but all of them furnishing priceless memories. From my father I learned that putting up Christmas lights in a sleet storm is probably not a good idea, although it certainly is dramatic when the bulbs explosively short out all at once. My mother showed me that a vigorous beating with a newspaper can put out a skilletful of potato pancakes that have burst into flames. (My mom had an entire repertoire of combustible dishes, but the holiday season was definitely the consummation of her genius.) And after weeks of narrow escapes we'd sit around the family room coffee table, stuffing ourselves sick with potato chips and dill pickles during our much-beloved Christmas Eve junk food pigout. We'd talk as we admired our gently leaning tree while the midnight monster movie played silently on the local nosebleed-UHF channel.

With baggage like this it was inevitable that I became a Yuletide zealot, and for the first nine years of my married life my husband was a real sport about it. He even went so far as to buy me my first fire extinguisher after a few exciting evenings trying to recreate my mom's holiday recipes. But after we had the kid, we began to visit my husband's family back East every year, and it just seemed like too much work to drag out all the decorations for the short time we'd actually be home in December. They languished in the garage, all the wreaths and garlands, lights and ornaments, and for several years every Monday after Thanksgiving felt like a funeral.

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