The most wonderful time

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. Will I ever catch up? It’s unlikely. 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 need to take off my “Bah Humbug” hat and find my joyous one.

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

Since we weren’t going to be home for Christmas, I suggested we forego the tree and just put out the nativity set. Not to mention, it’s a hectic time for my wife’s work, so I knew Mattie would be unavailable to assist.

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 contained Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, and a rotating disco ball. However, I agreed that the colored lights rotating behind the manger scene did add a certain flare without detracting from the beauty and symbolism of the display.

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.” 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. Jessie 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 did but 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, which we had carefully packed away the previous year. 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. I asked Jessie to hand it to me. The imprint was only three inches long and one-and-a-half inch wide. Where did my baby go? I know it wasn’t a grenade, but I handled it like one.

As Sally became full of ornaments, Jessie concluded, “We need a bigger tree.”

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 things away in January, I smiled, happy I had invested the time, energy, and expense. Something tells me we’ll do it all over again this year. Before too long, I’ll hear Jessie say, “Dad, it’s time to get a tree. Let’s get a real big one this year.”

But whether we bring home a Peggy, Jane, Susan, or another Sally, I’ll remember Christmas just might be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Until next month, remember to cherish the moments.

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 www.facebook.com/patricklhempfing and on Twitter @PatrickHempfing.