I strode along one of my most frequented paths which combines my town’s main street and a side street that parallels it. I like the route because it represents two separate worlds despite their proximity. The main street is scattered with restaurants reflecting the many Central and South American cultures that comprise a large portion of my town’s heritage, hair salons, family-owned gift shops and clothing boutiques with their signs as much in Portuguese and Spanish as English, churches, places to learn English and send money orders, and empty store fronts. The side street is lined with one-family homes so large that if I lived in them, I’d need a map to navigate them and an intercom to find my family members in the far reaches of rooms and floors away from me.
As I crossed a four-way intersection, navigating the streetlights (including their left turn arrows) as I always do because I don’t think the walk signal ever turns on, I came upon the first house in the row of mansions. I slowed my pace. There was a landscaping crew. This was a common sight on this street and in many places in Connecticut – people spend lots of money on their lawns here. You always know a landscaping crew because they have big beaten-up trucks with letters painted on the side and a big trailer behind. What made this crew different was that they didn’t have mowing equipment, pruners, or leaf blowers from what I could tell. They weren’t even looking at the plants in the yard. THE LANDSCAPE CREW WAS HANGING CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND CHRISTMAS WREATHS FOR A PRIVATE HOME.
I thought of that scene in The Grinch where one neighbor is using the Christmas light gun to decorate her house and the other neighbor is blowing electrical fuses to try to get her Christmas light display to just turn on. It never occurred to me that people might pay someone to hang their Christmas decorations at their home. Businesses obviously do that, but a private home having someone else decorate for Christmas?
On a later night, I passed the house of the family who had paid a crew to decorate for Christmas. Their house looked fantastic but in my heart of hearts the decorations were empty. I found myself wondering:
- Is decorating for Christmas more about the quality of the decorations or is it more about the combination of annoyance and joy of putting them up and then criticizing and loving your own work until you must go through the added chore of taking the decorations down again?
- Is decorating for Christmas about the quality of your house decorations or the conversations that go into convincing various family members or friends to help you hang decorations or the determination required to hang them all by yourself?
I found myself leaning toward the belief that decorating for Christmas was a lot about the journey and less about the end. Having decorated many a Christmas tree I cut down in the middle of my dad’s woods as a child, which is to say that we had untrimmed trees in all their asymmetrical glory, I find myself solidly believing that what makes home Christmas decorations special is that they were done by amateurs in the spirit of holiday cheer, family fun, and acceptance of an imperfect final product. It’s not that I faulted this family who paid to have their house decorated for Christmas, it’s just that their approached seemed business-like. Much like the Christmas displays on 5th Avenue in NYC, the house with decorations hung by a hired crew was beautiful.
I found myself chuckling about the concept of “keeping up with the Jones.” I found myself glad I grew up in a space and time where lawns were sometimes mowed by teenagers, often not mowed recently, and sometimes mowed by livestock. I’m not sure why the imperfection of unprofessionally maintained homes warms my soul, but it does. And as the holiday season unfolds, I find myself thinking about what exactly is most important in creating holiday spirit.