A Nativity Set, Disco Ball and Christmas Tree Named Sally


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Life is hectic enough with the day-to-day stuff. Each day, I add more items to my To Do list than I check off. And then it happens — Christmas rolls around. Shopping, decorating, traveling, collapsing. I sarcastically sing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Conversely, my daughter, Jessie, plays Christmas music in July. Around September, she asks, “How many days until Christmas?” So I take off my “Bah Humbug” hat and put on my joyous one.

Right after Thanksgiving last year, Jessie asked, “When can we decorate for Christmas?” A few minutes later, she inquired, “When are we going to get a tree?”

I decided to get into the Christmas spirit. This sounds better than “I gave in.” Jessie and I set up the nativity set first, one that took my wife more than 10 years to select, as she wanted to find the perfect one. It’s fragile, but Jessie wanted to arrange all the pieces. I think I said, “Be careful,” with each piece I handed to her. She did a fantastic job organizing it. At the end, she tucked her battery-operated disco ball behind the angel, as she wanted the scene to be spectacular. I think it’s safe to say that not too many households’ nativity scenes contain Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus and a rotating disco ball.

The next day, Jessie and I went tree shopping. We walked down one aisle and up the next. I pulled out four or five 5- to 6-foot trees and stood them up for Jessie to inspect. “We need a bigger tree, Dad,” she responded. Jessie and I moved to the row with 6- to 7-foot trees. Just when I thought, “This is going to take forever,” Jessie said, “It’s perfect!” to a Douglas fir just under 7-feet tall. She immediately named our tree “Sally.” I left home with Jessie and returned with Jessie and Sally.

The following day, I retrieved all the boxes marked “Christmas” from the garage. Jessie immediately went to work decorating. Once, I came in from the garage to find five red velvet bows hanging from the light fixture above my desk. The bows’ tails were almost touching my computer and were within two feet of my nose when I typed. Still, I had to admit my new work environment brought a smile to my face.

Next, Jessie and I wrapped Sally in lights, another memorable experience. Jessie did not quite grasp the concept (or maybe she chose not to apply it) that lights need to gradually descend from top to bottom. It had to be a Christmas miracle because, somehow, Sally ended up with lights covering her.

Then Jessie enthusiastically unwrapped the ornaments. One special and fragile ornament recorded Jessie’s tiny footprint in plaster. It had taken great effort for Mattie and me to hold her foot still enough to make it for her first Christmas. The imprint was only 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. I know it wasn’t a grenade, but I handled it like one.

We finished decorating and then sat in the dark admiring our work. The bright parts with an abundance of lights and the dark spaces without lights all looked good behind the scores of handmade ornaments and souvenirs of our travels and past Christmases together.

As we packed away our holiday decorations in January, I smiled, happy that I had invested the time, energy and expense. Something tells me we’ll do it all over again this year. Whether we bring home a Peggy, Jane, Susan or another Sally, I’ll remember Christmas really is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and writer. Follow him at facebook.com/patricklhempfing and twitter.com@patrickhempfing.

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