Tag Archive | decorations

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Undecorating on Three Kings’ Day

For many Christians, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the 12th day of Christmas (remember the lengthy carol about a partridge in a pear tree ?) known as the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS3q2iOMljY.

The holidays are now officially over. Yes, I took down the tree last weekend and removed the wreath from the door. But Christmas lights remained up on the veranda, and Pendleton the Solstice Otter has been lighting up with them. But now it’s time to take them down…

I’m sure it seems weird to some people that a queer man who describes himself as an ex-Christian would observe the Feast of Epiphany. But I’m not really observing it so much as using it as a cultural milestone. Many years I take down all the decorations on New Year’s Day. Some years, some of them stay up longer (usually because I’m busy or sick or otherwise swamped). I just always try to draw the absolute last line at Three Kings’ Day.

This is also the last day I let myself listen to Christmas music.


Decorating season is in full swing!

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process... © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our artificial tree is almost as tall as the ceilings in the new house. Here was a midway point in the process… (click to embiggen)

I have a tradition of putting up the tree on Thanksgiving weekend. For some people that’s very early. But then, I know (and am related in some cases) to people who never take their trees down. Anyway, the tradition started when I was in the third grade in grammar school. Before that Dad would drag us out into the woods somewhere to pick a tree and cut down. As far as I know he never had a permit or got permission from anyone. The one or two times Mom or Grandpa or someone would ask, he would insist we’d gone out on Bureau of Land Management property, therefore it all belongs to the public1.

Anyway, third grade and fourth grade were the years we moved several times during the same school year. Of the ten elementary schools I attended, five of them where those two grades alone2. Because of the packing, unpacking, moving, and so forth—and while Dad’s job often indicated within a certain window how long we would be in one place, the exact date we’d need to move wasn’t always certain—Dad agreed to let Mom buy an artificial tree in November because we might have to move in the middle of the holiday season. That year was also the first year that we didn’t drive back to my paternal grandparents’ place for Thanksgiving.

I think that at least half the reason Mom decided to set up the tree the day after Thanksgiving was because with deep snow and temps well below zero Farenheit, being trapped in our small house with my sister and I for three days was going to be a nightmare if she didn’t come up with something to keep us occupied for a decent amount of time.

The tree was only four feet tall—short enough that Mom could set it up on top of the console stereo. It still loomed over the room, but there wasn’t enough tree to hold all of the ornaments we owned. This made deciding what to put on where a major undertaking, with more than a little bit of arguing3 between my sister and I. If I’m right about why Mom decided to set up the tree that day, I think her plan backfired.


Because here’s the really funny thing: Both that year and the next, about three weeks before Christmas, we had to pack up everything—including undecorating the tree and boxing it back up—and move. In third grade, we moved from Kimball, Nebraska to Opal, Wyoming. In fourth grade the move was from Ft. Morgan, Colorado to Roosevelt, Utah.4

Anyway, the upshot is that for the rest of my childhood, Christmases were celebrated with that same artificial tree. The tree didn’t get retired until I was in my early twenties, after Mom remarried and moved to Arizona with her new husband, while I, still trying to save up money to transfer from community college to university, moved in with my paternal grandparents. As an adult, I’ve bought cut trees for Christmas twice, but otherwise have always had an artificial tree6. Back in 2000 or 2001 Michael and I bought a new 7-foot tall “pencil pine” tree. Unlike other trees we’d had, the body of the tree is very narrow, so it’s easy to fit into a small room, but still tall enough to create the big tree effect, and it holds a lot of ornaments. A couple years ago while we were setting it up, Michael pointed out how some of the branches had lost enough plastic needles to looks scraggly, and some branches were awfully loose. So we used it one more year, and then in an after Christmas sale we bought another, similar tree.

I hung up Christmas lights out on the veranda in the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. And then I unboxed our Christmas tree and hauled out the boxes of ornaments. Which is a much smaller collection than we used to own7. The first discovery was that while the tree doesn’t quite touch the ceiling, the two glass spire-style toppers we kept won’t fit atop the tree because of the slightly lower ceiling at this apartment than the old. However, the third topper we kept8, which is a teddy bear dressed as Santa, just barely fit. He is literally touching the ceiling, but he fits!

I got the lights on, which always takes a while, because I’ll string them on, decide they are uneven, unwind them, try again, et cetera. I’ll get myself very dizzy at least once along the way. Then I put a few ornaments on. But I was also doing laundry, and Michael talked me into going on a walk with him at one point, so by bedtime I had started on the tree, but hadn’t finished.

Saturday morning I resumed. This is the first year since 1997 that I didn’t have some kind of theme for the tree. Doing a different color scheme and theme every year is only part of the reason we owned more christmas decorations than any eight normal households could possibly use. And because I got rid of so many, I was feeling an urge to fit as much as possible of what remained on the tree. But I still wanted it to look non-random? Which wasn’t really working.

So… I was having a panic as I hung ornaments because I couldn’t find my Great-grandma’s ornaments. Great-grandma bought a box of mixed-color ornaments on sale in 19579. Great-grandma used them on a little artificial tree at her house until Great-grandpa died in 1974, at which point she moved to the coast to live with Grandma. Great-grandma died about six months after Great-grandpa. The ornaments then spent 30-ish years sitting in the storage shed at Grandma’s house. Apparently Grandma used them only once after Great-grandma died, then boxed them up. So after Grandma died, Mom found them in the shed. When she sent me a picture, I gasped, because even though I hadn’t seen them since I was 13 years old, I immediately recognized them.

Mom split them up. She kept three, then my sister, one cousin who expressed interest, and I got three each. I have put them on my own tree every year, regardless of the theme of the year. So when I couldn’t find them, I was freaking out.

I was afraid I had accidentally mixed them up with others and taken them to Value Village.

I was getting more and more frantic while going through the boxes. By the time my husband woke up I must have been really bad, because moments after coming into the room, he asked, “Do you need to sit down for a minute?”

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

These three little ornaments may not look like much, but they belonged to my Great-Grandma I, the woman who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch.

As I told him what was wrong, I pointed at the open boxes lined up that I had been taking ornaments from. I paused.

I counted.

There were only seven file-box sized boxes. “Wait! I distinctly remember figuring out that I could fit eight boxes in the closet before I started purging,” I said. I grabbed a flashlight and went back to the walk-in closet. Yes, hiding under the coats was an eighth box. Which of course had Great-grandma’s ornaments. It also contained a few other special ornaments that I had thought we kept, but that I hadn’t been able to find.

Eventually on Saturday evening we declared the tree finished and I put the boxes of unused ornaments back in the closet.

That wasn’t all of the decorating. Partway through Saturday I was feeling a bit of cabin fever. I had unpacked some non-tree decorations and decided we needed a table runner to go with the dark red table cloth. Especially if I was going to put another of Great-grandma’s old decorations (her plastic Santa, sleigh, and reindeer centerpiece) out. And that led to the acquisition of an outdoor decoration that is another story all its own. But I should save that for later, as this post is incredibly long, already.

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! © 2017 Gene Breshears

Our tree is ready to welcome you to celebrate! (click to embiggen)

We have the tree up now. It doesn’t have an official theme, but as I was picking ornaments out, I realized I was picking mostly red, green, gold, and white ornaments. Michael noted that there was something of an arctic theme, since I started by putting all the C. Alan Johnson ornaments on first (we hadn’t used any of those since the Pole-to-Pole tree a few years ago), along with polar bears, seals, and white owls. Of course, there are also three penguins, so we could think of this as a sequel to Pole-to-Pole. I don’t think I will. I’m perfectly okay with it just being the ornaments I decided to use this year, no theme. It’s just our tree—our Christmas/Solstice tree.


1. Which prompted Grandpa to say, “Which is why you’re supposed to get a permit.”

2. Also five different states.

3. And there was some crying at at least one point.

4. And if you’re curious: we lived in Opal5 for only about two months, then had to pack up and follow Dad’s oil rig out to Cheyenne Well, Colorado, very close to the Kansas border. In June we moved Healy, Kansas, and we literally were still unpacking when the job shifted to Fort Morgan, and we had to move back to Colorado.

5. Which is pronounced by the residents as “oh, PAL” rather than the way most folks pronounce the gemstone it is named after.

6. Among other advantages of artificial trees are they don’t set off horrible hay fever attacks for me during the one time of the year that it is usually cold enough in the northwest that I’m not dealing with pollen or spores from outside.

7. Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?), where among other things I hauled three big Subaru loads of Christmas decorations to Value Village.

8. A subset of our old decorations was a collection that was started by my late husband, Ray, which we called The Tacky Tree Topper collection: five or six different kinds of vary garish stars and two different illuminated plastic wreaths. Plus we had those glass spire toppers in just about every color scheme we’ve ever done (purple, red, green, blue, three different pinks, gold, silver…). Then there were the not-tacky stars (one of was bronze, one was silver and white), a thing that looked like a spray of gold glitter… four or five Sants (one with a purple robe, one with a red, one with a green, one with an ice blue… oh, and a burgundy robed one!)… and so on.

9. We know because she kept the box and it had the receipt inside it, I kid you not.

Decking those halls, part 2

303277495_morewaronchristmas_answer_3_xlargeDecorating the house always goes in phases. This year complicated first by me having some bad gout at the end of November and a few days into December (just before my doctor agreed that we should treat this more aggressively, so now I’m on meds for it), second by knowing that the front door was going to be replaced (so I didn’t want to put up wreaths), third by the theft of some outdoor lights, fourth because when I’m doing Christmas shopping I always find new things that fit the theme…

Merry Las Vegas!

Merry Las Vegas!

Also, my husband had several ornaments he’d ordered to surprise me with. One of which was the present from him that I opened at the annual giant holiday party with friends. It’s definitely in keeping with the Vegas theme of this year’s tree. Before the party, he had expressed some anxiety about the present. I interpreted it that he wasn’t sure he had grabbed the right box (since once they’re wrapped you sometimes forget which thing is in which box). Then after the party, and after we’d cleaned up the hotel room and returned home, he asked if I wanted to open another present. Because the present at the party had been the glitter-festooned Las Vegas sign, I thought he was hinting that another present under the tree was another ornament, and I might want it up on the tree for a few days before Christmas.

I had a little more than half of all the presents wrapped when I stopped last Friday to sleep for a bit...

I had a little more than half of all the presents wrapped when I stopped last Friday to sleep for a bit…

It turned out he was worried that I would think, somehow, that the ornament wasn’t much of a gift. Which is silly. First, any gift that’s sincerely given is wonderful. That’s the whole point. But the bigger issue, for me, is my hubby giving me an ornament. Our first Christmas living together, I was trying to plot out what to do with the tree theme. It was the second Christmas after the death of my first husband, Ray. Ray had loved Christmas even more than me, which is saying quite a lot. And he had chosen a color scheme for the next Christmas, which I hadn’t used (since I barely did any decorating the first year after he died), but he’d only gotten so far as picking colors and buying some ornaments in those colors at the previous year’s after-Christmas sales.

Some of the retro and glittery ornaments.

Some of the retro and glittery ornaments.

So I had colors, and some ornaments, but I was having trouble figuring out what to do with them. Whenever I brought it up to Michael, he barely replied. I wasn’t completely sure why. I eventually confessed that his lack of response was stressing me out a bit. It turned out that given his previous experiences with Christmas—him being a gay pagan growing up in rural Oklahoma surrounded by bible-thumpers—whenever I mentioned Christmas decoration, he had visions of manger scenes and angels and little baby Jesus’ everywhere. Which made him feel uncomfortable, to say the least. Whereas, the entire reason I was trying to get some opinions out of him was because it was his home, too, and I didn’t want to make him live with stuff he didn’t like.

Somehow, despite all the conversations we’d had about my own bad experiences being rejected by the church family I’d grown up with, and my love of science and so forth, it hadn’t quite sunk in with him that when I said “Christmas” I merely meant bright lights and ho-ho-ho and jingle bells.

So our first Christmas tree together was a Solstice tree in burgundy and silver. A color combination that we used to portray a slightly non-traditional night sky to commemorate the longest night in the year. He transformed from an unenthusiastic non-participant to a silver-spraypaint and hot-glue gun wielding fiend. He made scores of silver moon and star ornaments to hang on the tree. He help me make an enormous silver crescent moon to hang on the wall. We were finding moon and star decorations.

And even though he has been a very active participant in all of the years since (coming up with some of the best themes—Christmas From the Future!, Gaslight/Steampunk Christmas, the Sun Will Come Back, My Little Pony—I still remember that initial reluctance. And I recognize that I can get more than a little crazy about the decorating. It can’t be easy living with me when I’m in the middle of stressing out because the lights don’t look right and I’ve unwound and rewound the strings on the tree three times, now!

Our crazy 2014 Vegas/Cocktail Christmas tree...

Our crazy 2014 Vegas/Cocktail Christmas tree…

So any contributions he makes I take as an extra special gift. He’s enabling my wild, irrational impulses. He’s putting up with me transforming the house into a tacky, light-invested merry extravaganza.

So I love the glittery Vegas ornament. It’s perfect!

Petty theft

I was taking some trash out while getting ready for work, and noticed that one of the solar lights was knocked over and somewhat dis-assembled in one flower bed. Then I noticed one of the heavy duty extension cords was laying among the parts of the solar light, unplugged. For a second I was trying to figure out how someone would have run through that section of the yard. It’s not at a space where one would cross trying to take a shortcut. The concrete steps and steel rail are in the way for any sort of path that includes it.

Then I finally realized that one of the outdoor light sets was gone. Specifically the four lights that look like giant old-fashioned outdoor bulbs. Each was on a stake so they stand up, a red, green, yellow, and blue light. I had them spread across the front edge of the flower bed, completing the line from the snowman to the porch.

If you yanked up the four lights, making sure to get the easily-detached stakes off the bottom of each, pulling the plug out would have pulled up the extension power strip, and the second extension cord that led up to the icicle lights along the eave. And I assume that the process of disconnecting cables knocked over the solar light.

It’s irritating. Petty theft always is. It’s not that the lights were that expensive. I found myself being more irritated at having to get the extension cords back in place than at the loss. At least at the moment. I know when I come home from work and I can see the “gap” in my yard display because those lights aren’t there, I’ll get annoyed again. And even if I go buy something to replace it, at least some of the times that I look at the new display I’ll have a tinge of irritation as I recall the theft.

I remember a similar incident years ago. Ray was still alive, and he found these very silly garden pinwheels that had little cartoon tiger faces, and the blades that spun in the wind were tiger striped. The flowers weren’t very high, and he had decided we needed something in that bed to give it color. Not to mention that he really liked tigers. The pinwheels lasted a couple of days. I was at work, Ray said he was on his way out for an errand and he paused to spin one of the pinwheels by hand before getting into the car. He came back an hour or so later, and they were all gone.

He was very upset.

I wanted to go buy new ones, but he figured whoever stole them must be someone who walked by the place on a regular basis and just decided they wanted them. His reasoning was if we put more out right away, they’d just get stolen again. I don’t think the expense was what upset him so much, because my recollection was they they were very cheap. But there was definitely a feeling of violation. Probably worse precisely because they were cartoon tigers, and they brought out his inner child.

Whenever I find things like the purple and green metal pinwheel I bought last summer, or the solar lights, or the Christmas lights—I always have a twinge of emotion related to those tiger pinwheels. Angst or anxiety both feel a little too strong to describe the feeling. It’s just a hint of a fret about how I might feel if whatever it is gets stolen.

Sometimes I decide that I don’t want to risk it. If the object is expensive enough that I’ll be angry about the price, for instance. Or if it’s something that evokes a strong emotional response as soon as I see it.

But there’s always a little bit of defiance, too. I don’t want to let an a—hole dictate my actions. If I stop putting decorations out because this one jerk stole four cheap light-up decorations, if I let the actions of the occasional prick change me, then that’s another little surrender to the forces of darkness. I refuse to respond to petty theft by becoming a paranoid git saying “bah humbug” to the world.

Because it is petty. And being the sort of prick who steals novelty lights (or pinwheels) out of someone’s front yard is its own punishment, in the long run. The sort of person who stoops to that sort of theft tends to stomp all over the feelings of other people in their lives, too, which is a sure way to breed contempt.

So, the rest of the lights will stay up, and I very well may put out more, if I find something appropriate. Because the proper response to any assertion of the powers of darkness is always to light at least one small candle.

Decking those halls!

This taoist and his pagan husband blatantly display a mix of pagan and folk symbols during the sacred Christmas season.

This taoist and his pagan husband blatantly display a mix of pagan and folk symbols during the sacred Christmas season.

Once again, though the goal was to start decorating Thanksgiving weekend, the tree is only just now being set up. I did get a string of lights in the living room window, and one string of multi-colored icicle lights above the door, and a set of these big plastic lights across the front of one flower bed last weekend. So we’ve had some outdoor Christmas lights up all week.

Now that the gout is finally under control, we had a much more productive weekend. We got a good start on the Christmas shopping and finished a bunch of other errands on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we spent a few hours prepping the house so there was room for the tree before unpacking enough of the basement storage to start.

Read More…

The eleventh day

Our tree this year, the theme is Cartoon Characters.

Our tree this year, the theme is Cartoon Characters.

Today is the eleventh day of Christmas. Christmas starts, traditionally, at sunset on Christmas Eve, you see. Most of us don’t think of it that way. A lot of people in the U.S., myself included, tend to think of the start of Christmas Season as beginning the day after Thanksgiving. So by the time Christmas Day arrives, we’ve been decorating and celebrating for at least four weeks.

So I understand why some people are tired of it all by Boxing Day.

It feels like people are more impatient to end it than they used to be, and a friend had an interesting theory about that… Read More…

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