"Do you want to come over and help me decorate?" my grandmother would call to ask my siblings and me on a Saturday morning early in December. And yes, as a matter of fact, we did. It was the most eagerly anticipated day in the Christmas seasons of my childhood next to Christmas Day itself.
Boxes and boxes of decorations would come out of storage in the eaves behind my grandfather's closet. There was a long garland of plastic poinsettias to be wound around the bannister on the stairs. There was gold tinsel garland and scratchy white fake snow that I wasn't allowed to touch (it was probably toxic, come to think of it) to festoon the mantel, where a plastic sleigh with Santa and some wrapped gifts would be pulled by eight tiny reindeer and a Rudolph that was bigger than the rest and didn't match them.
There was a manger scene with all the usual fixings, including an angel holding a banner that said "Gloria," which when I was very little I thought was her name. My mom has the manger scene now, which she puts up every year and enjoys at least as much as my grandmother did. When I told her about Gloria one recent Christmas, my mother looked at me quizzically and said "Didn't you think of the carol with the words 'gloria in excelsis deo'?" Nope. I was a precocious reader, but more or less average in the understanding of Latin words department.
At Gram's house, the barn for the manger scene was carefully placed on the itchy, scratchy snow. I was allowed, as I got a little older, to place the figures in the scene -- which was a grave responsibility, both because of the fragile nature of the figures and the need for traditional accuracy in the placement -- with repeated warnings not to touch the snow (what was that stuff)? Next to the barn was placed a white church with a steeple that had lighted stained-glass windows and tiny carolers outside it, holding hymnals with their mouths permanently painted in Os.
There were tinsel garlands to festoon doorways, and a huge brandy snifter to fill with colored glass balls and place on the kitchen table. There were little Christmas figures for the top of the TV (what was already there was removed from its crocheted doily and stored for the season). Decorations for every room in the house came out of those boxes. But the scariest ornament of all -- to me as a little kid, anyway -- was the plastic mistletoe that hung in the doorway to the living room. It was attached to a styrofoam ball decorated with beads and ribbons.
This is a bell, not a ball, but you get the idea.
It wasn't scary looking, but it was very scary to a shy little kid because proximity to it meant getting kissed. Or having to kiss someone you really didn't want to, like your brother, for instance (on the cheek, but still). I used to pause about six feet from the doorway, make a visual reconnaissance of the area, and then run through the doorway at top speed once the coast was clear. I would be sternly reminded not to run in the house, but it was worth it, and in any case the grownups tended to be more lenient with the antics of excitable children at holiday time.
Despite my childhood anxieties, when I found a bunch of plastic mistletoe among the boxes of Christmas things I saved from going to the Johnston landfill, I had to keep it. It's hanging in the doorway between my sunroom and living room and in the unlikely event anyone tries to kiss me when I don't want them to, they will get, as my mother would say, a punch in the snoot.