It starts with the shock of a beautiful green tree in our small living room, followed by the crazy conversation where we try and come up with a "better" spot for the tree this year. Of course this is to no avail, since there really IS only one spot it will even (sort of) fit.
Then comes the trip down to the always icy cold basement to our storage closet, where I pull out the two purple bins full of our holiday decorations. I revel in the happy surprise and sort of foolish pride and relief that I feel each year that I really DO know right where the bins are and can grab them easily - they didn't disappear, even though I haven't given them a single thought in eleven months.
Next, we wrangle the tree into the stand, light a fire, get the "Christmas Cocktails" and Ella playlist going and only then, finally pop open the bins.
I love seeing all the items that I packed up last January once again. We put the santa hat on the Buddha statue, the red bows on the picture frames and, with a silent thank you to the tree trimming gods that all five strands are still working, the lights on the tree.
The ornaments get unwrapped and my son and I chat the whole time. It's the nutcrackers! Ohhhh, the pirate one! And the baby ornaments from your first Christmas! Did you make this one? Yes...when I was ten or so. The similar conversations that play out naturally each year are just another part of the ritual.
We ooh and ahh over the ornaments as we put them on the tree. We remark on how cute they are, how breakable this one is, how old that one is. We celebrate our favorites and give special notice to the one or two that we just added last year.
We stretch out the job, adjusting the display, laughing at the puppy barking at the reindeer ornament and, naturally, we congratulate each other on a simply superb tree once again this year.
But at the end of the day, there are the things that DO change, and maybe that is what makes rituals so wonderful. When so much about a certain day is the same from year to year, you notice and appreciate the small shifts. 2008 will now be remembered as the year that my son became tall enough to put the topper on the tree all by himself - no boost needed....
Photo: Ornaments from Anthropologie