Presents for Strangers

Christmas is always a crazy time at our house. This is all Pamela's doing. The house is always wonderfully decorated on the inside. Nobody drives by so there is no wasted effort putting up exterior lights because nobody would see them. So, with the focus on the inside, it is all the more crazy. First, there is the Christmas tree. Long ago, we used to get live trees. We would go out to one of the farms, or stop by the Healdsburg Boys and Girls lot and pick out the "perfect" tree, haul kit home and start the process. This was my families tradition and I loved it.

Until one year in about 2005.

If you are going to be putting a of effort into decorating, you want to be able to display it for the longest period of time possible, so we headed down and found the perfect tree on the weekend after thanksgiving. But, by my birthday, it had lost millions of needles, was a fire hazard and a constant cleanup mess. So, I come home from work and Pamela tells me that we have a new artificial tree, so take down the old one and put of the new one.

I grumble about it not being necessary and, with Xmas in a couple of weeks, surely we could get by with our "real" tree. This argument goes no where and we take all the ornaments off the tree, and haul it out the door and in the process it looses the remaining 99.0999% of its needles and proves Pamela right.

I'm still not sold on the artificial tree thing, but we put it up. A 12' pre-lit tree. We fill it with ornaments and it looks just spectacular! That's it, I'm sold. We have a new tradition and I'm almost happy with it. Year after year, we have used the same tree and it looks more and more beautiful each year as it collects more ornaments. Wow!

I have two concerns about this tree. First is that the annual fixing of the lights is a pain in the ass. A task I truly hate. Before AND after Christmas I find myself one the floor of the living room going through string after string replacing lights (don't even get me started on the different bulb voltages and bases). After doing this for hours, I am usually stiff, sore and grumpy. But, the the tree goes up and it's gorgeous once again.

The second problem is that, as the kids go away to school, there are fewer and fewer people to help me put this behemoth up! Seriously, I am going to kill myself trying to put the top two heavy, heavy sections on this tree! It is nuts and involves standing on ladders while manipulating a heavy unwieldy thing. Or leaning over the balcony and trusting my life to the hand rail.

Someday we will replace this with an LED and, hopefully, smaller tree, but who knows when that will be. 2011 and counting.

After the tree, there are dozens of Santas. Don't ask me where all these came from, but they come out of closets and adorn various tables around the house. These are followed by Snowmen who go on the little shelves up high in the family room. Snow Globes are scattered in between and Nutcracker Soldiers march into the living room.

But, we aren't done. The 30" bears, Santa and Snowman go into the foyer freaking the dogs out. Lit garland on the stair railing (did I mention that I hate fixing lights?). Various unlit garlands complete the look and we are done.

The amazing thing is that nobody looks at any one thing. Do people notice the snowmen way up high? I doubt it, but if you took out any one thing the whole would diminish. I love it. When the kids come home from college they should walk into Christmas. That should be their reward for finals and the stress of school. I think we've succeeded!

Our extended family Christmas Eve traditional get together used to move from house to house. for the past few years, my funny Mother will wait until I'm around when someone asks "where will we be doing Christmas Eve this year?". Then she turns to me and says "I don't know. Paul where are we doing it?". So we cheerfully volunteer.

By the time Christmas arrives, the tree is overflowing with presents. We end up putting some of them under the piano. It's a great look. On Christmas morning, there are stockings for everyone: even the dogs.

Yes, kids, there is a Santa and her name is Pamela.

Which leads me to this year, 2011. Early December, Pamela read a story about a Project Holiday, a wonderful program that pairs families in need with donor families. They provide an information sheet containing the family number, first names, clothes sizes and Christmas wishes. There is even a place for special requests like "nothing pink" or "anything with Dora the Explorer".

So Pamela goes about being Santa for a family in need. She shops at Kohls until midnight. Wraps presents until 2am. Even puts bows on the presents. I think Pam's standards are that if a gift is worth wrapping, it deserves a bow.

The presents get delivered by noon to the local Boys an Girls club and the families show up between 1-4pm to pick up the gifts. The entire Gym is full of presents and the kids add our stack of 20+ to the floor and head home.

All this happens without much from me. I offer to help wrap but, wisely Pamela declines. At some point, I mention that what she is doing is truly a wonderful thing. She is quiet for a moment. Then she says:

Here is the thing. There are presents under our tree for dogs!!! It is not ok for families less fortunate to go without.

Yes, kids, there is a Santa. And her name is Pamela.