Deck the Halls–well, sort of

I visited a sick friend in a nursing home last week. Every nook and cranny greeted me with colorful holiday decorations, creating such a spirited atmosphere that I almost forgot where I was. The theme was Christmas (with a smidge of Chanukah). Clearly much time, thought, and energy went into decorating this nursing home. I thought about how uplifting it was to be surrounded by a holiday atmosphere and how much I loved it as a child.

It reinforced the reason, throughout my growing up years and even now, with no children present in the house, we decorate for holidays. Why? Tradition no doubt, but I think it goes deeper. Going through the ritual lets us indulge ourselves as we think about times past; and with the tradition and creativity that go into transforming our homes for the holidays comes a special feeling of warmth and joy.

Eloise and Earl, who died in their 90’s, had to be the masters of this art. (You haven’t met them yet but they figure prominently in my book.) Their tree decorations were unique, and chronicled their life and their friends. No surprise that their tree was featured in House Beautiful and provided a photo op and text for a NY Times article some years later. Its ornaments– a nut cup from their wedding, an eyelash curler from some still-secret event in their lives–along with hundreds of items from friends and from their travels to almost every place in the world, conjured up countless memories. These older people had inordinate energy; and while I think many older people would love to have this kind of energy and decorate every year, most don’t.

Yet well into their 80’s, Eloise and Earl made a decision. Climbing to the highest step on the ladder and stretching out over the staircase railing to put the honored piece on the top of the tree needed to be done by someone younger. The tree, over a story tall (and positioned in an area where the staircase curved up to the second floor) required stretching and reaching from the balcony to the branches for the finishing touches. My husband inherited this job, wobbling on the ladder, finally putting the ornament perfectly in place when Eloise would teasingly say “Could you move it about half an inch to the right (or left).”

Back to the present I wondered: would offering to help with holiday decorations bring additional joy to aging parents as it did to Eloise and Earl? Does it make sense to renew everyone’s curiosity in that old box of ornaments (it’s probably stored somewhere) so we can share a special experience with parents or other older people in our lives? If the old box no longer exists, do we start our own tradition and purchase some decorative items? Older and younger people engaged in a project together is empowering and generates a sharing of ideas and memories we might otherwise never know about.

My parents are no longer alive. But I’m thinking of someone to whom I may offer my help. I love to decorate. So my offer may turn out to be a more meaningful gift for my older friend than any I’ve listed in the previous two posts…except for the wide rubber band jar opener, that is!

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