There are two types of people when it comes to holiday decor: those who deck the halls (and the walls and the alls) and those whose efforts start and end with slapping a wreath on the front door. My mother hails from the first camp. She hauls out the holly, puts candles in the window, and pretty much covers the full set of lyrics from “We Need A Little Christmas.” She even has seasonally appropriate dinnerware.
I come from the second camp.
I put up a Christmas tree and that’s it. A gorgeous live wreath adorns my door every year, yes, but only because my dear friend LC makes it and puts it there. No candles in the window, no outdoor lights, and certainly no changing of the dinnerware. In fact, if Mom had to put together a Fantasy Christmas Decorating Team from a pool consisting of me and my siblings, I would get drafted last by far, and only if the other three went out on injured reserve or got suspended by the league. Which might as well have been what happened this year, because I was the one kid who was available when it was time to hang the lights.
Mom and I got it done, but in taking me on as an apprentice, she missed out on Suzi’s first-born perfectionism, my brother’s engineering meticulousness, and Lynne’s tenacity. What she got instead was my legendary impatience, tempered with irreverence. At some point, Mom handed me a garnish I flat-out didn’t understand, some round, piney thing meant to go atop the lamppost like an evergreen hat and said, “It’s supposed to look Victorian.” I looked at it and agreed that it did, in the sense that I felt like beating the Dickens out of it.
Though trying at times, this process was not without its rewards: while searching for various decorations, Mom and I came across letters my sister Suzi and I had written to Santa Claus. Judging from their contents, they had to have hailed from 1982 or so. Though no one knew it at the time, those letters held strong clues about the career paths Suzi and I would eventually take.
Dear Santa Claus,
I hope you gave everyone else what they wanted. My list is very simple. It consists of 2 things, of which you might not be able to bring me. If these two are not possible, anything would be just great. Please include in your letter that you couldn’t bring me these items. Love and [Hershey] kisses,
1. A guitar (That is an item you probably can’t bring
2. Hooked on Classics (It’s a record)
Clearly I had lawyer instincts even then because I started out trying to get on the judge’s good side with a bit of harmless insincerity. Like all respectable attorneys, I then launched into a reasonable yet dispassionate petition in favor of my requests (“I’m only asking for two things here, pal, and one of them is a record. Never mind that this record is to classical music what Cheez Whiz is to camembert, I want it anyway.”). I also like how I included the actual wishes not in the body of the letter but as an exhibit, and how I requested documentary proof in the event my petition wasn’t granted. I can only assume I was preparing for appeal.
Suzi, who many years later would go on to a career in marketing, took a completely different tack in her letter.
At the age of 15, she not only knew some things about Santa that I didn’t, but she also already understood one of the most important principles of selling: if you’re not sold on your own product, no one else will be. She let Santa know in the clearest terms she was convinced she’d been good, and if he wasn’t, well, that was his problem. Unlike me, she didn’t bog down her letter with exhibits or any other clutter. She made her ask and then she got the heck out of there, spewing sales-y schmooz as she went because she grasped that relationships matter.
We both got what we wanted that year, for reasons having far more to do with our parents’ goodness than our own.
These days, our lists include things we covet more than a guitar or coat but can’t acquire with mere claims of niceness, such as our parents’ health and happiness. We know those things are gifts, and it sure can’t hurt to keep them on the list.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you, and may you get everything that’s on your list.