Kage Baker had evolved an infallible way to get through the holidays, feel involved and not go crazy. She had a quite arbitrary but functional event calendar that covered the entire last third of the year. Such and such a thing was done on such a date; it was then undone on such and such a date, and so we went from point to point in a nicely orchestrated rising crescendo of holiday cheer. Got things back in the boxes on time, too.
It was a soothing counterpoint to the Extreme Christmas that dominated December, where everything happens at once, simultaneously and repeatedly.
(I obviously still do things by this method, due to 1) habit and 2) it works. My sister Kimberly does too, the system having spread through the family as the only known antidote to leaving ALL the lights up ALL year and trying to switch out the pertinent plugs in the right order … )
So, the holiday deco started on October 1st, with the initial autumnal lights. It graduated by strict date preference into creepy and through weirdness: bats and skulls, green and purple, pulsing things in the bushes I am almost sure we put there … In November, the deco pupated into glorious lights that echoed and then outshone the deciduous trees; gold and orange and crimson and whole universes of pulsating embers in the dark. We could put up weirdness for that middle month – eager retailers make lights shaped like every single component of the Thanksgiving feast, for reasons of unknown insanity – but we choose instead to stick to glorious lights and the occasional faux maple leaf.
On December 1st, the winter lights started: a few strings of blue white icicles (for that touch of frost that does not occur naturally in Los Angeles) but mostly COLOURS! We don’t go for animated set pieces and tableau – just clouds and cliffs and waterfalls of colours,. Lights in the darkness to hold back the winter night that always threatens to last forever, a beacon for the sun to remind it of summer and life.
There’s a little mulberry tree in the front yard, the result of runaway caterpillar fodder one year when Kimberly was raising silk worms for her kindergarten class ( she teaches the itty bitties). It has gone golden and is shedding about a thousand more leaves than it seemed to have grown over the summer. Now it’s lovely naked bones are wrapped in white fairy lights, and we have strung long graceful lines of green from the boughs: for this season, it is a willow tree. The coloured lights behind it suggest bright improbable fruit.
On the lawn is our one concession to whimsy – Lars the solstice moose (though Lars is a decent classical wicker-work himself) and a glowing little ice-tree. A few lights blink, a couple strobe: mostly we are just a steady bonfire of hope in the winter night. That’s what the lights are for, after all – to keep hope and life and the soul alive during the Longest Night.
In a few days, on the 15th, the tree and the indoor lights will go up. Then it will all stand in glory through the 6th of January, the ancient 12 Days of Christmas. Then the winter lights will come down and we will retreat to our usual small monthly display – a colour for each month, just a little reminder of the glory of December.
Kage would love it. I will walk out on the lawn tonight (in the unnatural 80 degree wind now blowing through Los Angeles) and stand under the Arabian Nights glow of our make-believe willow tree. And think of her.