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Around the House: Holiday Distractions

The season’s spirit doesn’t spring from those confounded candles.

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Decorations and parties and shopping and parking and holiday cards and traveling and dieting and bingeing and wrapping. You get the idea.

The holidays and their trappings swirl around and envelop the weeks and days and minutes and seconds between mid-November and Jan. 2. By my math, nearly a sixth of our entire lives are swept up in the holidays.ÿAnd I submit that — like retailers for whom the holidays represent a disproportionate share of their business year — for most of us, that sixth represents a disproportionately large share of our annual efforts, whether mental, physical or financial.

I am a big fan of Thoreau, but simplicity, simplicity, simplicity would be my three least-likely answers if someone were to ask me what I expected from the 2003 holiday season.

God knows I try to simplify.ÿGod probably gets a good laugh, too.ÿClassic example: our artificial Christmas tree.ÿA while back, I got the brilliant idea of leaving the branches in the pole while the tree was in storage, to avoid having to sort and stick the branches back in the tree every December.

Great idea, if you have storage area on the first floor.ÿOurs is in the attic, up two narrow flights of stairs.ÿSo every year you can find me dragging our battered forever green down the two stairways, the metal branch tips scraping the lengths of the walls, gouging the paint and emitting a nails-on-the-chalkboard screech you can hear down the block.ÿThen I spend five hours unbending the branches mangled by the trip from the attic, for a total time savings of roughly 15 minutes.ÿ

Another artificial Christmas complication are those plastic electric candles in every window.ÿEvery night during the Yuletide season, I wander the house like one of Scrooge’s spirits, visiting each of two dozen windows, plugging in the candles.ÿMade of extremely light, Space Age — 1963 was part of the Space Age — plastic, the candle is a tenth of the weight of its coiled, springlike cord, which means that as soon as you grab the plug and move it toward the wall socket, the curled cord stretches and then contracts, yanking the super-light candle off the window sill and busting the bulb on the floor.ÿAt the end of the night, I again drag myself up and down three floors, unplugging any unbroken candles.ÿ

Within a week, the attic window is no longer graced with a candle.ÿA night or two later, the rarely visited guest room is dropped from the lighting routine.ÿNight by night, more and more rooms are darkened.ÿBetween busted bulbs and abandoned rooms, by Christmas Eve it looks like someone has been shooting out our candles with a BB gun.

But it also is on Christmas Eve, after the departure of the season’s distractions, that simplicity finally appears, in the cold, quiet hours before midnight.ÿEvery year, before settling down for my long winter’s nap, I step out onto the front porch and spend a few minutes looking up through my breath at the frozen lights set high in the velvety black night.ÿ Nothing breaks the stillness of the moment.ÿAnd, in that moment, Christmas arrives. HS

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