Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

Deck the Halls

Christmas at my house was always a major event. My mom insisted that we play Christmas music and only Christmas music—all the time and starting two weeks before the “big day.” We’d bake Santa-shaped cookies and give them to our friends and neighbors. Every year, my sister and I decorated the house with porcelain figurines that had been in the family for eons. Each year we’d track down the perfect tree at the local “U-Cut” Christmas-tree farm.

Of course, I’ll admit that there were times when the mere thought of spending yet another Saturday listening to Bing and Mom crooning “White Christmas” made me want to stuff a stocking down any songster’s merry little throat. And the prospect of my annual fight with my sister over the ideal shape of a Douglas fir was about as appealing as, say, running into Steve Urkel under the mistletoe.

Then I went to college. Sure, there was no curfew, no obligatory family dinners; but when December rolled around, there was also no baking, decorating or music. Just the exam panic and 3:00 A.M. diet soda binges. By December 13, with ten more anxiety-filled days to go before my last final, I was totally depressed and desperately homesick. I decided to take action.

“This stinks,” I declared to my equally stressed-out roommate. “Put down your highlighter pen. I need a little Christmas, right this very minute. Carols at the window, candles on the spinet!” It was bad. I was leaking sappy Christmas tunes from home, and I knew I had to do something about it—quick! Luckily, my roommate was feeling the same way. We both tossed our books aside and prepared to outdo Macy’s with our version of Christmas cheer.

In a Martha Stewart-like frenzy, we fashioned red and green construction paper into signs that read “MERRY XMAS” and taped them to our walls. Then we cut snowflake wannabes from typing paper and made our own winter wonderland. We microwaved popcorn, strung some of it, ate most of it, and then hung the strings artfully around the room.

Finally, we stepped back to examine our work. Something was missing. Andy Williams singing “Joy to the World”? Antler headbands? No, duh—lights! So we grabbed a cab to the nearest discount store and bought miles of multicolored bulbs.

Back in our room, we went through three rolls of duct tape trying to get the look we so desperately craved. Around the door, veering erratically across the ceiling and up the window, we fashioned an Impressionistic Christmas-tree shape. When we plugged the lights in, it was a sight to behold. I popped a Christmas tape that my mom had sent me into the tape deck, and the moment was complete.

To further foster the feeling of Christmas, I insisted that the group of girls on my floor do a secret Santa gift exchange. Everybody drew a name out of a hat and bought that person a gift. Then we all got together, opened our presents and tried to guess who our secret Santa was. Sitting there in a sea of shower gels, posters of cute guys and Lifesaver’s Sweet Storybooks, I started choking up. It was at that moment I realized how special, wonderful and beautiful my mom had made this holiday for all of us in our family. It was a part of me, even if I was locked in a dorm with a bunch of girls cramming for exams, I had to have it.

Sure, it was Christmas college-style with Rice Krispy treats instead of rice pudding, and Pearl Jam instead of the Hallelujah Chorus; but we were stuck at school, and we got to create our own traditions. I’m a senior now, and we still do the secret Santa thing. My roommate and I have also lugged boxes of ornaments and hauled nasty-looking fake Christmas trees around from dorms to two apartments, but as long as I live, I will never forget our first heartfelt, makeshift college Christmas.

Melanie Fester

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