My relationship with holiday decorations has always been tense.
Most of my memories of holiday decorating are of annoyance at being called into service to put up lights, streamers, ornaments, posters, statues, and additional festive miscellany. This task involved ladders, hammers, a great deal of fine manipulation, and tremendous ignorance of my autistic sensitivities. It was bad enough that the point of this effort was seen as self-evident and therefore any request for insight at my end was seen as insubordinate and rude. But this involved a whole series of precise manipulations of fragile objects, sometimes in winter gear, on precarious perches and with the overall scheme still being determined halfway through, all undertaken when I’d rather have been doing virtually anything else, repeated for each succeeding holiday. I found meditative calm in some aspects, particularly in putting the decorations back in their orderly boxes once a particular holiday season gave way, but it was far from enough.
The space between, when the work was done, wasn’t much better. There were motion-activated devices all over the decorated areas that would start singing or, around Halloween, shrieking, to the delight of a series of people who weren’t me, and it was generally not my overload that prodded people to finally turn the motion-sensor switches off each year. In December, a thousand pinpricks of sometimes-twinkling light would make looking in certain directions a steady path to migraines, and a rapid path to tense surliness that endeared me to no one. New Year’s Day and US Independence Day added another layer to this mess, with loud fireworks that managed to cross multiple limits at once and which I had to endure for years before I finally extracted permission to stand farther and farther away, in relative quiet and dark.
Holiday decorating did not follow me to Ottawa. I didn’t bother in my one-room apartment, considering the desktop-sized push-button singing plastic tree my parents gave me concession enough. I extracted from my better-heeled neighbors what little festive joy there was for me in winter lights, where I could more easily avoid their sensory hazard. I instead enjoyed charming touches like the wooden-figure gnome garden set up in a ground-level tree hollow in front of a house near the uOttawa biosciences complex, whose figures changed clothes every few months.
To this day, holiday decorating doesn’t occur to me naturally. Decorating for a specific event, such as a party, I can understand, but decorating for a season does not bring me the same satisfaction nor seem as implicitly necessary. If anything, putting up pretty touches knowing that, a hazy amount of time later, I will have to remove them makes me want to either not bother at all, or defiantly insist that the item is now an all-season flourish. Decorative lights in particular are something I’ve been glad to avoid since coming to Miami, as I aggressively built a home as free of migraine triggers as I could.
It’s only lately that I’m learning the actual value of any of these things. Ania’s enthusiasm for seasonal festivity exceeds mine, and I faced it with passive resistance. Her insistence on crafting some winter cheer for our home made our half-decision, half-resignation at not traveling for the holidays into something warm, cozy, and welcome. In the end, there is something inviting and sweet about a home with winter garlands and sparkling orbs, and the tradition of presents under a tree has too firm a grip on us to be so blithely abandoned. Certainly, all of this made the horrific flu we both got over the holidays decidedly more bearable, and made the series of exhaustion-induced errors and wastes in our quest for Christmas Eve dinner something to smile over instead of endure. We watched “The Force Awakens under electric starlight and ate pierogi and barszcz, and it was good.
I only wish the bank balances weren’t so forbidding.