How to force yourself to have holiday cheer
Confronting your own mortality while putting up a tree.
A Christmas display in Fishhawk Ranch on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.
A Christmas display in Fishhawk Ranch on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2023

A version of this column first appeared in Stephinitely, a weekly newsletter from columnist Stephanie Hayes featuring a bonus column and behind-the-scenes chatter. To get it in your inbox every Monday, subscribe here.

As of this writing, I’m wearing my holiday cat shirt from the dark underworld of Kohl’s. It has a hidden button that plays “Oh, Christmas Tree” in cat meows. On the patio, my spouse has deposited 16 different plastic tubs with THINGS in them. You know, things. Christmas things. Trees and tinsels and ornaments and little snowmen that sit on surfaces and stare with hollow eyes. Things.

Our mission: eat pizza, maybe with a little holiday grog, and put up the THINGS. We will have CHRISTMAS JOY if we have to BURN IT ALL DOWN TO GET THERE, DO YOU HEAR?

Yes, I am getting very cappy, and I’m sorry for that. It’s just, this portion of the year already runs on such an exhausting timeline, and I’m weary for life reasons. Also, here’s something to chew on if you’re not part of a blended family: You can’t just do decorations any old day. You must grasp specific and small windows in order to FORCE MERRIMENT AS A FAMILY, oh, here I go again.

Decorations. Carols. All the joie de vivre the season brings. I find it helps to make a list of priorities when feeling overwhelmed:

1. Clean all surfaces before putting new things on said surfaces. Perfect. Not only do you have a cumbersome decorating task before you; you must clean the house in a regular way.

2. Put up the pre-lit, artificial tree you invested in several years back after a string of real trees brought heartache, pain and round-the-clock paranoia that the pets were drinking toxic tree water. One year, the real tree was cut so crookedly at the Tree Cutting Place that it toppled over in the living room, ornaments and all. You have evolved and don’t have room for that kind of drama in your life. Give yourself a pat for respecting your limitations.

3. Pull out the vintage ceramic light-up tree with the disembodied Santa head that no one in your home except for you finds ironically charming. Endure their taunts and cries of, “Why do we have to have that thing?” and try once more to explain that it’s hilarious in a retro way, and you can’t help if they don’t recognize genius.

4. Examine the ornaments representing different eras of your life. Reflect on how quickly the hours have come and gone, just like Virginia Woolf warned, and face your mortality while “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blares from a nearby wireless speaker. Softly cry.

5. Unfurrow brow to reduce forehead creasing.

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6. When everyone starts to get testy, because there has never been a decorating session in the history of the world in which participants do not start to get testy, take an extra-long bathroom break. Actually using the bathroom is optional.

7. Scroll TikTok in the bathroom. Rearrange skin creams. Clean grout if time. Try to memorize lyrics to the Grinch song. You’re a three-decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce.

8. Finally come out of the bathroom.

9. Pizza.

10. Assess the plastic tubs. Ascertain that you have only installed 30% of the stuff at midnight. Ask yourself how you accumulated this much holiday decor. Ask yourself how many garlands one human needs. Decide that 30% effort is FINE this year. Maybe every year? That the holidays will come and go, but your participation is always optional. That the home is now one-third more jolly than it would have otherwise been. Great work.

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