The Decorator (A Christmas Story)

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by Cyn Ley


Boxes. So many boxes.

How on earth had she accrued all this stuff?

Janelle pulled out her latest find and sighed. She was an ornament junkie—she knew that. Beautiful things caught her eye and the next thing she knew, they were coming home with her. She figured she spent most of her Christmas budget on tree ornaments.

But how could she resist? These lovely jewels of light brought her joy in a way that emeralds and diamonds never would.

She remembered all those Christmases when, as a child, she got to help decorate the family tree. When she was little, it was making chains with construction paper and paste, chains of glittery paper that wound around the tree and decorated the entrance to every room. As she got older, she was allowed to place the soft ornaments on the lower branches, and bit by bit, as she grew, her decorating moved farther and farther up the tree. Until  one night, on the evening of her crowning achievement, she was allowed to climb the ladder her father held for her and place the joyful angel her smiling mother handed her on the topmost branch with the utmost care.

Then she would climb down. Her father would put the ladder away in the garage. Her mother would make cocoa with marshmallow crème on top. The fireplace would be lit, and they would sit together on the couch, admiring their family achievement. It was a wonderful moment.

Anything that followed was anticlimactic.

It’s not that her Christmases were failures in the gifts department. Quite the opposite, really. It was just that nothing came close to the magnificence of a twelve-foot  fir tree bedecked in seasonal splendor.

Her family had a tradition. Each year, each member of the family received a Christmas ornament in addition to other sundries. The ornament could be homemade (like the pretty God’s eyes she made when she was six, using two popsicle sticks and yarn) or store bought; it didn’t matter. But it had to be meaningful in some way.

“Mom, blue is your favorite color so I made you a blue one,” her six-year old self said.

A decade later, giving her a hummingbird.  “Because hummingbirds make you happy.”

“You make me happy, honey.”

And finally, a fine porcelain angel, given to her father to keep.“Because Mom is an angel now.” Her father held her close, and wept.

There were two angels there now.

Janelle knew holiday grief, but she knew holiday joy with an intimacy so profound that she found it hard to talk about. Even the loss of her beloved parents brought happy memories, along with a few tears. To her, Christmas had never been about presents and the anticipation thereof. It had always been about beauty. There was nothing that could brighten the heart more than a tree wrapped up in its regalia with a pile of gaily  wrapped packages underneath it. She saw Christmas as if it were a photo, a captured moment of light.

It wasn’t surprising that she did so. She worked as a freelance photographer and videographer. Her work had received critical acclaim. She was in demand. That very morning, a local news station called and wanted to hire her. The project sounded interesting, and she accepted. A video  which would be split into five segments and air over the evening news five nights in a row. She was to go into the poorer neighborhoods with a reporter for a day and see how poor families celebrated the holidays. How did they manage it?

Two hours into filming, she skipped lunch and went to the nearest craft store, buying up several pairs of scissors, paste pots, glue brushes, and every roll of glittery paper (green, red, gold, and silver) she could lay her hands on. She wrote up instructions on a card and wished the recipients a Merry Christmas. Every house, every family that she and her reporter Brian visited that morning received a bag of supplies for making Christmas paper chains.

The parents were always puzzled at first. “Christmas should be fun,” Janelle explained. “I loved making these as a child.”

A smile from the recipients, and often a hug. “Merry Christmas,” they all said to each other.

“Why are you doing this, Janelle?” Brian asked. “How do you know they’ll do it?”

“I don’t,” she said. “That’s not my business. I want them and their kids to have a chance at doing something fun, making something pretty, something they can all enjoy without worrying about the expense. A chance to relax and enjoy the moment.”

That afternoon, they visited different families, bags of glittery paper and paste in hand.

It was an afternoon of delight.


            Four days later, Brian came over and they went to the community center in the neighborhood where they’d been filming. They stopped at the craft store again. She bought piles of acrylic yarn and bags of popsicle sticks. When they came in, all the children clamored to know what was in the big box Brian was carrying. Laughing, Janelle and Brian found a free table, laid out everything, and once everyone had settled down, taught the kids how to make perfect God’s eyes. Perfect because of what they represented. Perfect because they had been made by a child.

“Brian, do you have any plans tonight?” Janelle asked as they packed up to go.

“No,” he said. “After such a wonderful day, I’m pooped!”

She grinned. They were both exhausted, but happily so. “Tell you what,” she said. “Drop me off, go home, catch a nap and food, and come by around eight? I’d love it if you could help me decorate my tree.”

He understood the gift she was giving him, and was touched to his soul. “I’d loved to,” he said.


            Two people, content, sat on the couch looking at the glorious thing they had created. Cups of cocoa with marshmallow crème on top in hand, they looked into each other’s eyes and smiled.

“Merry Christmas,” Brian said softly.

“Merry Christmas.”


            On a poor street where once only darkness dwelled, paper chains sparkled like stars, and God’s eyes called down the blessings.


(copyright 2016)




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