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Bring up the Boxes


“Leroy, it’s time we got the boxes up from the cellar.” These words set my young heart aflutter. Those boxes contained Grammy’s supply of Christmas decorations and their appearance on the first floor signaled the beginning of the holiday season at the Maines’. To my young eyes, these two boxes were enormous, almost big enough to hold my little grandfather who had to finesse them up the rickety cellar steps, through the narrow door, and into the den — the room he referred to as the “rumpus room.”

Always quick to follow Grammy’s orders, my grandfather dutifully fetched the boxes and the two began the magic of turning our house into a celebration. First, they set up the faux fireplace, a cardboard affair complete with mantel, birch fire logs, and a twirling gizmo fixed to a red bulb. So closely did this arrangement mimic a real fire in my six-year-old imagination, that I could almost feel the heat rising from its flame.

Now began the unwrapping of the candles that would create a holiday scene on the mantel. Each one was like a tiny Christmas present. There were angles, of course, and fir trees, carol singers in long mufflers their mouths wide open in song. Next, we moved to the living room, where atop the console black and white TV, my grandmother arranged fake snow and a round mirror on which several wax characters skated.

In the days that followed, my grandparents would put a candlelight in each window. My grandfather, an electrician at the local paper mill, had made these during his slow times. They were white painted wood, decorated with springs of holly or pine boughs. The bulbs were red — this was before white lights became fashionable — and every night during the holiday season I fell asleep bathed in the magical glow of the candlelight in my bedroom window.

There were outside decorations, too. Grampy had made two three-foot electric candles for the top of the porch stairs. My hula hoop was commandeered for the duration of the holidays and became the foundation for a giant wreath. My grandfather collected the greenery and together my grandparents wired boughs to the frame. Decorated with pinecones and red berries and topped by a big red bow, the wreath took its place on the front of the house. Completing our home’s holiday aspect, the Christmas tree with its abundance of colored lights, was placed in the living room window facing the street.

Neither my spouse nor most of my friends understand my passion for the holidays. Few enjoy shopping for, or wrapping, gifts and most have artificial pre-lit trees, but I still love picking out a live tree and filling its boughs with colored lights. I delight in placing the blond angel at the very top and unwrapping the ornaments one by one —Anne of Green Gables from a trip to PEI, a misshapen green-wire tree made by a long-ago student, the cardinal and the goldfinch, the golden retrievers, and my best friend’s handknit miniature stocking cap and red mittens.

The big boxes are long gone as are my grandparents, but the joy of holiday decorating is rooted in my being. Every season, I feel my grandmother’s presence as I set up my snow-covered Dickens’ scene or hang a wreath on the front door. During the darkest days of the year, our house is transformed —ablaze with color and light — and the spirit of my grandparents smiles upon it.

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