Trees, Time, and Tricking Yourself

I have been a lover of Christmas for many years. This doesn’t make me unique; in fact, this makes me every other white woman on the internet who claims to be “basically Joanna” or “such a Clark Griswold.” It’s become cool to love Christmas in the same way it’s cool to love brunch, to love athleisure wear, to love calling your dog “the doggo.” It’s a low maintenance and high vanity form of showing how good you are at “adulting.” It’s cute, it’s cozy, it photographs well. It’s almost cheating to tout Christmas as a grown-up thing, but alas, here we are, cooing over Crate and Barrel catalogs while we think up the cleverest caption for our tree pics on Instagram. All in the name of being #soadult, of course.

When I was young (and then, frankly, even when I was not so young) I paid homage to Christmas in myriad, overly-sentimental ways. I gave myself a specific amount of Christmas to do each day, like I was punching a timecard. I drew pictures of living room scenes in houses not my own, always featuring a Christmas tree, a fireplace, a banister with garland, a cushy armchair, and many gifts wrapped in purple paper (because purple is my favorite). I would finish one drawing and then immediately draw another. I flipped solemnly through a book we have called Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book, awarding double points to myself if I absorbed it by the light of the tree. I baked Christmas cookies that were not very good. I made a boyfriend slow dance with me in my family’s kitchen to Christmas music. I put on pajamas and made hot chocolate in my special snowman mug and then forced myself to just think really hard about Christmas for a totally arbitrary amount of time. I wrote a story about an old rich man who met three poor (but charming!) children and his Christmas gift to them was letting them decorate his mansion, and everyone in the story agreed it was very generous and magical and in no way exploitative or strange. In middle school I wrote a book report on Peter Pan, positing that Neverland is just heaven and it’s where the dead kids go, and my personal Neverland would be the North Pole. In high school I had to plan my wedding for a class called Christian Lifestyles and I planned a Christmas themed wedding, complete with a gingerbread house wedding cake. That really pissed off my teacher, which was kind of my goal, but nevertheless, I was–and still am– deeply committed to the concept of Christmas.

But it’s strange to have the Christmas tree up and the air conditioning on.  It’s not upsetting, it’s not depressing, it’s just bizarre. Does anyone know if there is something similar to jet lag, but instead of sleep being affected, it’s just your general sense of time? Time of day, time of year? If that’s a thing, then I have that. I haven’t known when I am for a few months now. Summer in Chicago immediately transitioned into a still-very-hot Los Angeles fall, where I continued wearing all the same clothes and keeping all the same seasonal habits (like toenail polish looking fresh, for example). Summer didn’t have the hard stop that it usually does: no switching over wardrobes, no digging out wool socks, no eating soups. The light here is different, too. By about 2:30, the sun is very low in the sky–very much a winter sun– but it’s still bright and it’s still hot. It’s dark out by 5, and even then, still warm. We walk to dinner in total blackness, wearing a light jacket, and it’s 6 o’clock. It’s the combination of temperature and time of day and the palm trees; my god, the palm trees look so alien and beautiful against the moon, but they don’t do much in the way of frame of reference either. My body and my brain can never agree on what time it is, and even if they could, neither would really believe it. It’s not the lack of snow that makes Christmas lights seem strange; it’s the smell of things still blooming, still breathing.

There’s something to be said, I think, about feeling like a fraud. Imposter syndrome is real, sure, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I feel like I invented a whole season and am alone in my observation of it. That’s not literally true, of course; Los Angeles is very into Christmas. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a city in the US that is not very into Christmas. That doesn’t negate the second guessing I do every time I turn on our Christmas tree lights, pour coffee into a Christmas mug, watch a Christmas movie. Is it really time to do this? I ask myself. And I ask myself because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t know what time it is anymore. This has less to do with Christmas and more to do with the feeling that I’m driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s one of the strange, intangible adjustments you never plan for and no one ever warns you about: the sneaking suspicion that you’re making it all up. Maybe I am talking about imposter syndrome.

I think it makes sense that Christmas decorations (and beautiful food and interior design and writing blogs and anything else that can be both passion and distraction) have become so conflated with being a functioning adult human. They are tasks on a checklist, busy work to keep you believing it’s all real: certainly not made up. And I think it’s effective. It’s nice to be in control of something, to curate perfectly, to create an illusion, to punch your made-up timecard, to have done a sufficient amount of Stuff in a day, to have done a good job. It’s the sudden stop and subsequent realization that maybe you haven’t been doing it right that gets you. It’s remembering you don’t know what time it is, and the possibility that your clock was never set right in the first place. But it doesn’t take much to just turn your Christmas lights on anyway, trusting that you’re at least a little right, that it really is the right season, the right time.

Anyway. Here’s a picture of my Christmas tree AND my air conditioner, because sometimes things are strange! But my commitment remained and I unpacked each ornament with care, decided which characters get to be nearest the star this year, which critters could not be near each other (because of personal differences that I made up), and then looked lovingly at each piece. Just think: this whole post could have been a character breakdown of every critter I own. (There’s still time for that, don’t worry.)

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