Strings of Lights

by Sarah Ann Noel

I thought it was normal, really—for your entire house to completely transform the day after Thanksgiving. We’d pay our Thanksgiving dues; and then the very next day down came box after box after box from the attic, all packed with years’ worth of Christmas decor, and more importantly, memories.

We each had our tasks. Stephanie arranged the nativity. Dad strung the tree with lights. Mom replaced artwork with holiday wreaths. Josh was too young to lay claim to any particular chore, so we assigned him the odd jobs. And I always, always wrapped our staircase in greenery and lights. It was tiresome, a bit, and every year I questioned how I’d gotten myself into designated stair-decorator. But then every year, when I finally made it to the top and plugged in the lights and saw the whole entryway and staircase glow, my face matched the light with pride, my heart with holiday spirit.

I don’t think we saw the rigidness of our holiday traditions, as apparent as it may have been to others. We weren’t so much following a strict order as we were the protectors of a certain kind of magic. We took the Christmas feeling from everywhere and we sucked it up into our house so that it was alive in a different way during the end of each year. And if we did it the same way, time after time, it was as if we could annually recreate a wonderland full of that special feeling.

And I suppose Trevor knew he was getting into something crazy even before he came home with me that first Christmas we were together; but seeing the drama of Kincheloe traditions unfold really confirmed things for him, I’m sure. We Kinch kids were growing up, spread across the country, but still meeting at home for Christmas. So when we finally all made it there, with just a few days to do what had taken us weeks to accomplish when we were younger, we’d scurry from each corner of the house to complete the transformation and build the wonderland.

Trevor must have seen what was in our hearts. He recognized our desire to protect not just the golden moments of our childhood, but a greater nostalgia that everyone craves during the holiday season. So he joined in, carefully not overstepping boundaries (lest he complete a job long before assigned to another!), but lending a hand to get it done.

I was so thankful for those few Christmases he joined me before we were married to make a little home and family of our own. I saw in his eyes the yearning for special traditions and wonderlands and too much Christmas music too early. And since I’ve grown enough to turn over my duties at my parents’ house, he and I have worked together to make our home feel just as special, in our own special way.

We even have our own children now, and Christmas is really starting to count for them. They are remembering the way we do things and it makes my stomach leap to see repeated looks of awe and wonder year after year. Slowly but surely, they are acquiring their roles in Christmas preparations and voicing their favorite parts. These are the things around which we are building our wonderland. From the hanging of the Advent calendar and stringing of the lights to the dusty old Christmas vinyl and a full day of cookie baking, each December our lives are transforming as we revisit those things specially set aside for Christmastime.

It’s as if I was raised on tradition, but also the tradition of making a tradition. The acts themselves are not as important as the existence of something that uniquely binds us together under one spirit and mission. They are the stuff of “us,” practices and joy that will always be ours. It will be ours and it will become theirs—our girls’—so that one day, when they are grown enough to hand the duties back to us, they will make homes that transform with whatever holiday magic they find together. And like the string of lights loosely wound around our tree, so are all our memories a string of lights cycling on and on to make something completely mesmerizing.