My father used to design our Christmas cards. They were always very clever and people would rave about them, and often save them. I remember the family sitting around the dining room table, each member with a dish with a different color of paint in it. The card came through the assembly line and we each painted a dab of color on our assigned pieces. The result was a hand painted masterpiece for everyone on the list. It was pretty impressive.
One year my father got the idea that the family should create our own nativity scene. He brought home some clay that could be baked and painted and gave out assignments for the project. The younger ones got to make little sheep and lambs which ended up looking like non-descript lumps of mashed potato. Then there were shepherds that bore strong resemblance to taller lumps of mashed potato, and three wise men who looked like lumps of mashed potato with crowns.
My father, the artist, took on the responsibility of making the stars of the show: Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. His creations looked like they had been fashioned by Michelangelo and would take your breath away with their beauty. We built a little manger and threw some hay around, and it looked just great.
Although he would never admit it, I realize now that my father loved Christmas. I remember coming home one night a few days before the holiday and seeing through the front windows my father on a ladder in the living room. To my horror he appeared to be painting the walls. Inside I realized he was using pastels, drawing carolers, bells, ribbons, stars, Ho-Ho-Ho everywhere. He stopped me, “Don’t worry,” he said, “it will wash off.” Of course it did, but I was a teenager at the time and wanted our decorations to be like everybody else’s. I think if anyone would have offered me a plastic pre-trimmed tree at the time, I would have snapped it up.
There was usual hunt for the ornaments which had been misplaced the previous year. Lights were tested and always failed, kicking off the search for the one bad bulb that needed to be tightened. And somehow one of the four legs of the tree stand would have vanished. Our tree had to be balsam and they just don’t come all bushy and full. Ours, therefore, was always a too-tall and pretty scrawny tree, boasting a study of ugly ornaments through the ages, all hand made. Ours was a large family and everyone contributed to the project. There were tattered paper chains, elf drawings, and glitter glued to every available surface. One year we put acrylic paper cups into the oven where they were supposed to collapse into stars. They collapsed into things that looked more like lumps of mashed potato.
Our children have moved away and are developing rituals of their own, ugly ornaments and all. My oldest son has a rare collection of Elvis ornaments. We have a couple of bedraggled decorations we brought home from Germany 48 years ago. We might try drawing on the wall this year.
Merry Christmas to all.