The children are so proud of themselves. We all stand around, enjoying this holiday moment. They have worked so hard, and are proud and pleased at what they have accomplished. We look on in awe; the lights are wrapped in a festive ring, not too tight, and blinking in rhythm. My husband beams with pride that not one light is burnt out. The tinsel is layered ever so lightly, giving that illusion of a twinkle against the red and green flickering lights.
We all sigh, get back to reality and realized we need to unwind the lights from our youngest son and my husband needs to get back to trying to figure out where branch AB intersects with limb CD. Just another memorable holiday in the making.
The holiday season is supposed to bring out the best in us. Feelings of love, forgiveness, and charitable thoughts abound. In our neighborhood, those events occur, but more readily it is time to name the over-achievers. You know these families. They begin in November, putting up their holiday decorations and plotting their baking strategies. Just watching these families sets in motion our competitive spirit. We find ourselves pulled into the race to become the family with the most holiday spirit.
To receive this title, families must win the trifecta. The best decorated house, the best Christmas card and the best treats handed out first in the neighborhood.
Feeling the true spirit of the season, my family jumps into the competition with abandon. Not only does the inside need to resemble the enchanted Toyland of the North Pole, we must have the perfect outdoor combination as well. We must all have animated figures that bow and wave happily at our neighbors, while making an obstacle course up to our front doors. The lights all must be hung exactly two inches apart in order to maximize the reflection of the animated Snowman onto the house. In order to achieve this perfect series of events, my husband downs a bottle of Prozac, and grabs the ladder. There is a high point on the house that my husband just can’t reach. That’s when inspiration hits, and he grabs our youngest. Holding on tightly, he dangles the child in the air to place the last string across the house, just as I pass out from fear.
We are almost there, about to be named The Family With the Most Holiday Spirit, when we remember we need to create the perfect Christmas card. Not an easy feat as I have several neighbors who have taken it upon themselves to hand make their own joyous greeting. We force our three boys and dog to strike fanciful poses as I quickly snap two hundred pictures. One of these has to be a keeper. We spend a hundred dollars at the one-hour photo shop, only to discover that in every picture the middle child is frowning. We debate whether or not to cut him out and tell our family and friends that he joined the Navy, but he is only eleven. My husband rushes out to buy a digital camera, and we are saved! I stayed awake for thirty-six hours working on cutting and pasting adorable personal cards to the neighbors and everyone in our address book.
We are feeling confident. This is the year the title is ours. Perfection has been created. The children and I have slaved over homemade gingerbread houses. We have created gingerbread families to resemble our neighbors that will live in the cute and tastefully decorated homes. The decorating rivals anything that Martha could have invented and we feel we are in the final stretch.
Suddenly the doorbell rings. Standing on our porch are the neighbors from down the street. They are all dressed in Santa Claus costumes that they made themselves. Their treat plate has been handcrafted by their two-year old, and all of the cookies come from original European recipes. They are also giving bottles of wine, made in the North Pole. They inform us they have hired a Santa to stand in front of their house, and a group of Carolers will be appearing every night. They have imported pine trees from a Bavarian forest in Germany, with all handmade ornaments. The taste of defeat is never sweet. We grudgingly admit, we have been outdone.
After they leave, we discuss what this competition has cost us. Do we really want to be the over-achieving family? Have we lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas? We sit and talk over these profound questions and decide that for next year, we need to start planning in March.