Christmas Time is steeped in tradition, whether cultural, religious or family inspired. It is the holiday that follows Thanksgiving, celebrated with lavish decorations, lots of presents and a large turkey feast shared with family and friends. For some, Thanksgiving leads to the start of the Christmas season when Santa’s arrival is usually announced by a parade and Christmas decorations are unpacked to begin trimming the tree and placing twinkle lights on the house and front yard.
“First Light” is the important beginning of celebration as, no matter what culture or religion, illumination is at its heart and most make reference to a “Festival of Lights.” From the 8 nights of Chanukah, or spinning the dreidel into Diwali, the Hindu festival lasting 5 days, it seems a shame that some Christians take weeks to prepare for only 2-3 days, beginning Christmas Eve and ending after Christmas or Boxing Day as radio stations stop playing seasonal music and stores prepare for Valentine’s Day.
Modern society has forgotten that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” officially begin on Christmas. Historically, on Christmas Eve the tree was decorated, brought into vogue by Prince Albert when he introduced his young Queen Victoria to this family tradition. Trimmings consisted of fruit and nuts illuminated by candles, now electrified with twinkle lights, and heavily ornamented with garland, tinsel and candy canes. Topping the tree traditionally is an angel or star representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem and Nativity. Being Armenian, my family went to Church on the 12th Day of Christmas. Now my tree remains decorated and lit until after that day.
I was 18 when I acquired my first ornament, a keepsake Monopoly Game Board, symbolizing the blatant commercialism that fueled the 80s. Each year since, new ornaments have been added. Most special to me are confectionery products or pop culture icons because of my advertising and marketing background. I have the ‘Pillsbury Dough Boy’ and a variety of ‘McDonald’s’ items as well as ‘Cadbury,’ ‘Lifesavers,’ ‘Hershey’ and others. Friends gifted me with ‘M&Ms’ characters from ‘Mars Canada’ to ‘Animal’ from ‘The Muppets’. My most cherished gifted ornament? A ‘Coca Cola’ bottle with 3 little elves. Surprising, as I am a ‘Pepsi’ collector, but my friend did this on purpose. Each year I smile as I unpack it for its designated position on the tree. “Never neglect the back side of the tree,” I say in the spirit of my inner ‘Martha’.
Adorning the top of my Christmas Tree is a 1995 Winter’s Eve Barbie from the American Holiday Collection. She was a gift from Mattel executives when I was a young advertising executive at Oglivy & Mather. Being the universal symbol of materialism, she is my perfect angel to represent 20th century commerce.
Another tradition that I ritually commence at this joyous time of year is the myriad of Christmas movies to pop into my DVD player. This begins with ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ both original and remake, that play just after American Thanksgiving, when all the decorating is done, the twinkle lights are lit, and I have a big bowl of popcorn plus a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows by my side. The parade ends with ‘White Christmas’ on Christmas Day, after all variations of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ from original to remakes, including ‘Scrooge’ and ‘The Muppets’ were squeezed in between. Somehow I never fail to add new acquisitions, from ‘Sleepless in Seattle‘ to ‘While you Were Sleeping‘ to ‘The Holiday‘, ‘The Ref‘, ‘Toys‘, ‘JackFrost’ and many others. I will never tire of Christmas scenes in the movies.
No matter what life brings, whether I am living in a new home, relocating to a different town, sharing this special time with new friends, expanding family or alone, my Christmas traditions remain constant and embrace the eternal six-year-old in me.
Now, if you will excuse me, I need to finish decking my halls and trimming the tree. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ awaits. But first, I need more twinkle lights!