Instead of shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend I got in the game with Christmas. Living overseas lit a fire under me with regard to cards and mailing packages. You just can’t negotiate with that deadline. With intermittent help from my daughters, I baked four cookie recipes, the gingerbread of which they iced all on their own. I executed a dodgy maneuver in Photoshop, extracting my head from one photo to paste it into another so that we would have a family portrait for our card with no closed eyes or grimaces and which included the cats and the dog, all making eye contact with the camera. The cat I held, not liking to be in such close proximity to the dog, growled the entire time we were being photographed. Do it, I told her, for posterity.
I wrapped the deck railing along the back of the house with my reel of fairy lights, running them up to the second floor so that from our bed at night I could be tricked into thinking of city lights, taxi headlights reflecting off wet avenues. It’s like living over a bar. It’s nice. A bar without patrons or a sound system.
There are businesses in town that will put up the lights for you. The truck was in front of one house on our street. And there are other people who must know what to buy so that you can clip your lights in a straight line along the edges of your house. Other people have deer made of white mesh and lights. They look like the ornaments we made one year in school by wrapping string, glitter and paste around a balloon and, when it was dry and stiff, popping the balloon. My parents had it for years, my name written on a tab of masking tape in the runes of the phonetic system our school used for early, liminal literacy.
One house in our neighborhood will be wrapped entirely in blinking lights so that it seems to careen around its small lot, too close to the road. It is the last house to be undecorated, in January, like a drunk at closing time, staggering around in pursuit of something no one else can comprehend, a vehement denial of the fact that this brief season of illumination has passed and you are left with bare trees, coldness, static, chapped hands, iced windscreens. One assumes that there are people in the house, amid the maelstrom of lights, but what if they leave for warmer climes, assuming the lights are a good deterrent to burglars, returning once the season has passed and all the electric deer have been returned to their boxes, their storagey pasture on a shelf in the garage.
At the upscale supermarket, where I go for Brussels sprouts on the stalk the day before Thanksgiving, there is a profusion of cinnamon pinecones by the door, a dazzling display of Christmas-themed candies, but nearly empty. I stroll, enjoying the luxury of solitary shopping, and find ginger ale without high-fructose corn syrup. Baskets are placed at each end of the aisle offering the gourmet versions of the things the less salubrious supermarket, where we usually shop, places there. One gets used to the nutmeg, cinnamon smell. It normalizes itself.
We buy our tree, earlier than usual. We are besieged by catalogs and magazine renewal cards. At least half of a day’s post goes straight to recycling. It rains almost every day, water beading like jewels against the car windows as I drive the usual tracts of road, the streetscape now blurred, transformed by lights, distracting, cheering. The illuminations bring out the architectural beauty of the IHOP roof, a rectangle framed in modest white lights that deepen the blue of it and accentuate the once radical tilt of its plane. Did they know this would be the effect? I marvel at it, this small, slight Christmas miracle.