‘Twas the Day after Thanksgiving and All Through the House

November 23, 2012 | 33 comments

Growing up, we didn’t shop for great deals the day after Thanksgiving. We never risked life and limb in a mad dash at WalMart. No, we had our own death-defying experience right in the comfort of our own home. It began right here, while balancing cardboard boxes, swollen with Christmas finery, down this narrow throat of stair:

This was what I looked forward to all year long: Christmas decorating day. Move over Clark Griswold. I was a tinsel ninja. My soundtrack? The Osmonds Christmas. On eight-track.

Mom could barely finish scraping off the Thanksgiving dinner dishes, before I was begging to decorate. I was on a Mission — a tinsel-hanging, elf-dangling, greenery-in-the-light-fixtures, swirly-twirly, multi-colored-lights-tacked-to -the-door-frame Mission.

Within 24 hours, our home would be transformed into a faux winter-wonderland. We’d deck the halls with boughs of kitschy-ness. We stacked our home with ceramic Jesuses, cottony snow pulled from plastic bags, knitted Christmas potholders and yards upon yards of garland.

“Hark!” The ceramic angels sing, “Glory to the crocheted King!”

Our outlets performed electrical miracles — in which up to ten strings of lights could be inserted into a single plug-in. (Oh, Come, All Ye Fire Marshals?)

We had no fewer than 30 Santas in the house: a snoring Santa, a lifesize Santa stuffed with crumpled newspapers, a knee-high Santa with matching Mrs. Santa near the fireplace, painted Santas, sequined Santas, Santas with heads super-glued back in place, and more.

One year, I convinced my parents that we needed a second tree in the living room — not an evergreen tree, but a rugged old paint-splattered ladder from the shed, on which we could hang more ornaments, tinsel and glittery stars. Mom was, at first, skeptical, but she let me drag that old ladder in. It became a fixture year after year.


But my favorite moment came when I arranged the nativity on the built-in bookshelf in the foyer. I would climb over the banister, and crouch down on the top of that shelf — in another death-defying move — carefully arranging the characters. Jesus, of course, was the central figure. I fixed the others in such a way that they would gaze upon the ceramic child, while not blocking the view of actual humans, here below.

I knew, of course, that Jesus was more important than Santa, and thus put the jolly elf one shelf lower than the Bethlehem scene. And they all got along quite peaceably in our home — Santa and the Three Kings and Rudolph and Jesus — all right there amongst the fake greens and the comforting glow of multi-colored lights.



Funny, now that I think about it. … Funny, how all that kitschy, overwrought world of tinsel made me feel warm on the inside. It felt a bit magical, quite honestly, like I somehow had a part in making Christmas come alive, while hanging boughs of holly and nestling that tiny Jesus down in his wee trough.

And I suppose it’s how Jesus came to nestle down in my wee heart, too, right there in the most ordinary place, with Donny and Marie crooning and Mom frying bacon and Dad carrying another box full of greenery down the creaky staircase. I felt a bit like Mary, now that I think about it, treasuring up all these things — even the cheesy, tinsely things — and pondering them deep in my heart.


Your turn:

Tell me about a favorite decoration, or ornament, or a favorite Christmas CD. Are you a Clark Griswold, or more of a minimalist? What’s your cheesiest, must-have decoration?

by | November 23, 2012 | 33 comments


  1. Lori

    I am definitely Clark Griswald. I don’t do a lot of shopping or hectic running around, but I do love the decorating part. I have several trees and several Nativity scenes. I still have the first ornament my Mom ever bought me that wasn’t a round ball, it is a little plastic angel wearing pink pajamas and bendable legs. She is blowing on a flute that my best friend says looks like a cocaine straw. My brother got a drummer boy who looked very like your elves…plastic was the new big thing back in the early sixties! Loved your post!

    • dukeslee

      LOL, on your plastic angel! … I used to be a Clark Griswold, as the story tells, but now, I don’t do so much. My girls aren’t all that into decorating with me. But we did start Elf on the Shelf this year, and that’s been fun. 🙂

  2. Leanne

    I won’t be starting Christmas decorating until next weekend when Advent starts, but my favorite ornaments are the felt ones Mum put on the tree: two angels and an elf. They are now missing feet and are a bit worn through and battered, but Mum was going to throw them out and I rescued them.

    I do the whole Nativity thing too — with a set Dan inherited from someone that consists of some chipped plaster-of-Paris figures and ancient cotton wool for snow and a plywood stable … and I add characters to it and baby Jesus doesn’t show up until Christmas Eve. It appeals to my inner theatre-geek I think.

    Other than that — it’s two trees — one big one (fake of course) and one small one (ditto) for the “mini” ornaments that would otherwise get lost…

    My husband helps me put the big tree up and then gets out of the way. 🙂

  3. Brandee Shafer

    Those Christmas decorations are delicious. DELICIOUS, I tell you!!! I LOVE kitschy, tacky, vintage. BLOW MOLD is my favorite! Our tree is a silver, aluminum one. I need to go drag it out…

  4. Lynn Morrissey

    Mother said that when I was only two, I’d take all the plaster painted characters from the creche set and ring them around my cereal bowl. We had quiet a conversation, apparently, and I used to sing to them, as well. My favorite toy was Daddy’s “roly-poly,” whih he received as a baby. It’s about 85 now, I guess. Daddy died when he was 79, but I still have this papier-mache clown, which has a rounded and weighted bottom. When you push him over, he bounces back. I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere. These days, I have a Lenox creche set. I always wanted one, and despite that it is exquisite cream china, hand-painted and trimmed in gold, I still love most the set that was mine as a child. The paint is chipped and some of the pieces are missing parts, but it’s a part of my childhood and my heart. I love listening to Handel’s Messiah (or better yet, singing it). This year, my mother and I will hear it at our symphony hall. And come October, I begin playing my many Christmas-carol CDs, the favorite recording of which is Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity with the Cambridge Singers. I love all things British.
    Merry Christmas in advance, Jennifer! I appreciate your asking!

  5. Carol Hulin

    My cheesiest decoration is a babyfood jar turned into a Santa Claus, with felt hat. It`s definitely seen better days.
    People look at it and say “Why do you keep this decoration?” When I rely that my grandmother made it, suddenly the decoration is takes on a different look.
    It’s the memories of her that bring it to life!!!

  6. Paul Willingham

    In the early 60s I was employed as chief engineer of a local radio station that competed successfully against the popular Top 40 music formats of the day by featuring “Better Music”. Our playlist included show tunes, light classics, lots of instrumentals, performed by Mantovani, Percy Faith, Andre Kostelanetz, 101 Strings, etc.

    During that time the Harry Simone Chorale released their version of “The Little Drummer Boy”. Our program director liked it so much that first year that we played “The Little Drummer Boy” every hour from Thanksgiving until Christmas. Since then I have never really liked the song.

    My favorite Christmas song from that era is “Do You Hear What I Hear” which was written and recorded in 1962. The composers were influenced by the threat of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  7. Sylvia R

    What fun this whole thing is: your post, and all the comments! Makes me want to crawl up into the attic and haul out the tackiest Christmas stuff that’s still around, of which there’s a considerable amount! And why is that? I think all the sentiments expressed above explain that very well. Thanks for a delightful read!

  8. Sandra Heska King

    We have a falling-apart apple (a Swedish tradition, I think) that has hung on every tree since we were married–this year 41 years. (Except for a couple bad years when I didn’t put up the tree at all.)

    As a kid, our trees never went up until quite close to Christmas. I remember some plastic icicles, paper chains, and tinsel hung piece by piece. My mom saved it. (When she grew up, the kids were never allowed to help decorate or even see the tree until Christmas morning. Santa brought it.)

    Oh…and I reposted some Black Friday memories. 🙂


  9. Pam DeWall

    My favorite decoration has to be a Santa snow globe we bought at the Hallmark store many years ago. It plays “I’d Like to Teach The World to Sing.” While the song plays the little train circles the base of it. When our oldest grandson, Zach, was little he would sit on Grandpa’s lap and watch that little train go around and around. He would ask over and over for us to wind it so he could watch the train. He is 10 years old now and still looks for that snow globe when he comes to Grandma & Grandpa’s. To me it is a special ornament because my grandson loves it so much. One day it will be his so he can show his kids the little train and hopefully they will be as infatuated with it as he was.

  10. Brenda Lindquist

    Our tree is filled with ornaments my girls have made over the the years. We have 3 pop cicle stick angles with twine hair askew and pop tab halos that the girl and I made at a friends Christmas party one year. We have ceramic candy canes painted in neon colors my youngest daughter made in 2nd grade and on and on. We have a little green metal tree to remember my Big brother who was killed in a logging accident in December of 2000. Our Christmas decorating is laughter and memories. As we put up each ornament we “remember when”. Of course there is the white and gold ceramic nativity scene with all the characters carefully arranged around the Baby Jesus.

  11. Deb Huffaker

    My favorite decorations were a set of three wise men that my Mom would hang on the curtain rod. After I was grown and married, I asked Mom for them, but she wouldn’t give them to me. In secret, our daughter searched and searched for them and finally found and bought me a set….then, my Mom suddenly decides to give me hers, too. So I wound up with a set of 6 wise men!!! So blessed!!!

  12. floyd

    We didn’t do much in the way of shopping either, but my single most favorite thing about the decorations was the tinsel on the tree. It was the last thing and the chrome colored plastic was like magic for me… Maybe that’s why I still love bright and shiny things? My wife says I’m like a fish… That’s not very Christmas like is it?

    Good fun, great post. Traditions are worth more than any value we could try to place on them.

  13. Paul Willingham

    Forgive me for doubling up but this memory finally broke through the after Thanksgiving haze.

    During my early years (years 8 or 9), my mother worked as telephone operator for Illinois Bell. She worked odd hours during the holidays. We did not always have a tree at Christmas. One Christmas memory that has always stayed with me was a year when we did not have a tree.

    Shortly before Christmas, while my mother was at work, my dad pulled a bunch of cardboard boxes from the storage area in our rented first floor flat on Chicago’s North Side. He stacked them up to look like a fireplace. Then with help from my brother and me we wrapped the assembled cartons with crepe paper that looked like red bricks. The top of the fireplace was finished off with a wooden plank or board (or perhaps a spare leaf from the dining table). Dad (Grandpa Al) was a very inventive, creative guy.

    Viola’! We had a fireplace, complete with a wooden mantel. And the portly bearded gent with the soot stained red suit was able to navigate the imaginary chimney. On Christmas morning, wrapped gifts and filled stockings (no coal) awaited my siblings and me. A faux fireplace but a real Christmas.

    • dukeslee

      What a delightful memory, Paul. Very inventive. I love that your father would go to such lengths to make Christmas extra-special. Do you have a photo of your faux fireplace?

      • Paul Willingham

        I doubt it. That would have been in the 40s and it a photo was taken, it would have been with a Kodak Brownie camera. Photos were taken with planning due to cost. Wish I did tho.

    • Lisa Auter

      Paul, I am from Chicago, too! Grew up in Rogers Park and Harwood Heights. Just curious where you hail from. 🙂

      • Paul Willingham


        We lived on Richmond Street, south of Diversy. Richmond Street is between Sacramento and California. Don’t know if the neighborhood had an official name or not. Our building had two single family units or flats as they were called back then plus a small efficiency apt in the basement.

  14. Lisa Auter

    I think this might have to be its own blog post. Anyway, my Christmas personal-soundtracks were the Barbra Streisand Christmas record (from the 70s), my Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas record (from the 80s) and – most of all, the music that makes me feel warm and comforted on the inside – is from the famous Carpenters Christmas album. I was in charge (or put myself in charge) of making the “displays” on all the shelves of our multi-shelved shelving unit. Sadly, I don’t have specific pictures that I know of from those days. But I was quite the decorator. I, too, brought out cotton to make snow. I took Mom’s circular mirror and made it an ice skating rink. I had Mom’s old 50s and 60s kitchy Christmas candle/statues. Like the choir boys who looked like girls. And the tall regal angels singing with their mouths in an O. Of course there was Santa and his crew, but I wasn’t much interested in them. I had a whole cast of characters to organize. It looked mighty nice. Nice memories to think back on; thank you!

  15. Lisa Auter

    Wow, I just youtube’d Cabbage Patch Christmas and some kind (and 80s-loving) soul had downloaded all the songs from the record. All the songs have memories for me, but this one, I think, was the first time I had ever heard of the “little baby who was born, born, born in Bethlehem.” I look back and, surely, it was the first time I heard of Paul and Silas. It’s funny that now, into my 2 years of being a Christian, that I know who Paul and Silas is. 🙂 Ah, thanks for the memories.


  16. Jody Lee Collins

    Okay, not sure who Clark Griswold is…did I miss something? But I do have some Christmas decorating memories–a clay ‘tree’ made by one of us five children–a cone-shaped lump, smushed in with thumbprint indents, painted green and glitterized. Not sure who has it now (my parents are gone)….I also remember year after year my mother taking styrofoam balls out for us to decorate with very small push pins and sequins–you could change them up from year to year. When my mother died in 1984 we all split up the glass ornaments that were on our tree as children–so we each have a little bit of those memories.
    Thanks for asking–this was a delight.

  17. Lynn

    Hi Jennifer,
    Your post was fun, even if so many Santas is pretty cheesy!

    Our “cheesiest” decoration growing up was probably the 6 ft. while flocked (aluminum?) tree with the colored floor light that would turn and illuminate the tree first blue, then pink, gold, and green! Wow, we thought it was magically wonderful!

    Also loved to listen to my parents’ Christmas music records while decorating, especially “Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass” (Now I have my own CD of this oldie).

    And every year, I must watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (on VHS) which was my favorite TV special as a girl…and my sons now refuse to watch with me. I know they’ll have good memories of their own, even if different than mine.

    • Lynn

      …it was a “white” flocked Christmas tree!

  18. Nancy Franson

    Oh, Jennifer! You know this right here is speaking my love language 🙂

    I loved when my dad carried the same tattered cardboard boxes down from the attic each year. And I remember when I first started buying decorations for my own room. Remember using some kind of glass product to make Christmas stencil designs on my windows.

    I played my dad’s Christmas records over and over–especially the one about Snoopy and the Red Baron. The Carpenters’ Christmas album was big back in my day.

    When I was a teen, I used to get embarrassed about the tacky Christmas decorations in my town and especially the wooden reindeer my dad set up in the yard every year. I wrote about that here: href=”http://outofmyallegedmind.com/tradition/”>Tradition!

    Now my motto is, “There’s a fine line between tacky and seasonally festive. And I’m always careful to stay on the right side of it.” 🙂 Great post!

    • Nancy Franson

      Ooops, I don’t think my hyper-link thingy worked. Oh well.

  19. Jennifer@Adam's Rib

    I start chomping at the bit to box up Thanksgiving the week before. This year, we waited until the night before to pack up the pumpkins but did manage to wait until after the turkey to put up the tree. I love, love this time of year, and my children can feel the excitement of it, too. Love this look into your life.

  20. Amanda Hill

    Ha ha – I tend to want things to be so pretty and perfect and it makes me realize that the silly stuff is what kids like best. I might drag out some of the loud obnoxious things that don’t exactly match because I know it’s good for their memories and imaginations. Thanks for the reminder!

  21. happygirl

    I loved this post. I wish I could indulge my desire to decorate and deck the halls. Alas, we live so far from family. My stronger yearning is to be with them at Thanksgiving. This means we are always traveling for the holiday. Then, I scramble to get the decorations up while juggling a full-time job and no free weekends. I’m living through this post with a smile on my face.

  22. Amy Jung

    O how your post resonates with me…I’m looking forward to putting some of those old items up that have always made Christmas feel “magical”. BTW-I’m starting a 4 weeek Christmas devotional on my blog tomorrow: wastelandtograceland.com I’m offering each week as a free download as well. Would love it if you visited!

  23. emily wierenga

    oh friend i LOVE christmas… i totally understand this. it is my favorite time of the year. it just makes my heart sing.


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