Leaving Halloween Decorations Up All Year Long Is How I Reclaim My Independence
Twenty stories of objects and areas in people’s homes that nourish their souls more than their social feeds. Read them all here throughout August.
On Nov. 1, 2004, I put up a two-foot fiber optic Christmas tree in my teenage bedroom. We had only been in Tennessee for four months, after moving from Houston where I grew up. Our new home was an hour and a half drive from the nearest non-Walmart grocery store, and there were so few people my age nearby that there wasn’t even a local high school, and I was homeschooled out of necessity, not choice. As you might expect, I was out-of-my-mind miserable.
The fiber optic Christmas tree had glowing tips that rotated between blue, purple, red, yellow, and green. It did for teenage me what I imagine those sunlight lamps do for people in countries that are dark for months of the year. I put the tree on my dresser, across the room from my bed, so I could lie down and watch the dancing lights. I remember how I smiled for the first time in months—and how strange the expression felt on my face.
“You can’t have that up yet,” my mother said when she came into my room, shaking her head at the tree. Most people would probably agree with her that November is too early for Christmas decorations. But her particular rule has always been no decorations before Saint Nicholas’ Day, Dec. 6. She once told me, sounding very serious, that the Bible says you cannot decorate for Christmas before then. I’m still not entirely sure whether she was kidding.
In any previous year, I would probably have acquiesced. Even to me, November feels too early for Christmas. But what I wanted wasn’t Christmas, precisely. Long before the move, my parents’ divorce had left me feeling like a pawn rather than a player in my life. “My” room in my mom’s house never felt quite like mine, and neither did my room at my dad’s. I was always subject to their rules and whims. But that November—a month out from 15, moved halfway across the country with no friend but a 30-pound Himalayan cat—I needed a win, and I was grasping at straws. And the straw I grasped was a fiber optic Christmas tree.
The tree would stay, but my mother raised her eyebrow at it every time she entered my room. It felt like it was my happiness she was scowling at each time she opened the door. There was a time and place to be excited about things, and my mother made it very clear to me that here and now was not it.
The voice in my head parroting the rules took some time to silence. When I moved out on my own, I gradually built up collections of my own Halloween and Christmas decorations, and started pushing at the boundaries—but in more of a tentative prod than a shove. One year my Christmas tree was up before Dec. 6, but I didn’t post any pictures of it on social media before then, because I knew it was against the rules. One year, I left my Halloween decorations up too long because taking them down made me so sad, and I didn’t want to feel sad anymore. I did take them down, eventually.
In 2015, I decided I was fed up with a lot in my life, and frankly, I was too preoccupied with getting out of a dead-end career to realize that included holiday decorating rules. However, I knew I needed big changes in more ways than one. After being accepted to a graduate school in England, I began packing for a transatlantic move and discovered that nothing quite makes you prioritize your belongings like the cost of shipping all your earthly belongings across an ocean. The Christmas decorations did not make the cut. The Halloween decorations did.
Several of the decorations in the flat in which my husband and I live were his before I moved in, some came with me, but most we’ve bought together in the years since then. In essence, it has been Halloween in my flat since then; decorations go up and rarely come down again. I didn’t even notice the voice of the rules in my head was gone; it just suddenly, simply made sense to keep the decorations up as long as they made me happy.
I remember one August evening when my then-fiancé arrived home to our flat in Newcastle, England, after work. As he hung his keys on the taloned feet of a glittery black raven in the hall on his way into the living room, I leapt off the couch and sidled around the coffee table, careful not to knock the plastic cauldrons or ceramic ghosts.
“Loooook!” From amongst the spiderweb tealights, small tombstones, and sparkling pumpkins, I showed him my first Halloween purchase of the year: a glass skull. His eyes lit up along with the skull as I flicked the switch in the cork at the top. “I named him Fester.”
“Did you only get one?” he asks.
I looked thoughtfully at the crowded mantlepiece. “Do we have room for another?”
Today, yarn tassel ghosts preside over the entrance to the kitchen, bat streamers flutter over the radiator in the living room, and a wreath of black roses hangs on the bedroom door. One might think they’d grow boring or commonplace over time, but not a day goes by that they don’t bring me a smile—an expression I now wear without a feeling of strangeness.
As I sit on my couch in the midst of a pandemic, looking over the top of my netbook at the pumpkins sitting atop the fireplace, I find their cartoonish grins are hard to look at without copying, even these days. I don’t go outside unless I have to anymore, but walking around my flat and looking at the corvid-festooned walls is a decent substitute for a walk in the park. Last week, lockdown brain felt especially heavy and dark. I walked over to the mantlepiece and turned on Fester the light-up skull, and everything felt a little easier.
It can be hard to reconcile simple moments of happiness in times of suffering, but I’m far from the first to say we can’t survive without moments of levity. Enacting our responsibility of care to each other is important work that should not be ignored; enacting our responsibility of care to ourselves is important, too. I hope you put up your Christmas tree tomorrow if it’s something that will bring you joy. Get out your goofy pink bunnies, your colorful candles, your lawn flamingos with hats for every season. Give us bread, and give us plastic black roses.