“Is that a…Christmas tree?”
The little boy dressed as a hockey player tries to look around me into the living room. I block him with the bowl of candy and drop a couple of chocolate bars into his open bag. “Spooky Halloween,” I say as I shut the door in his face.
It is a Christmas tree. A 10-foot artificial Fraser fir covered from top to bottom in 2,500 lights, glass garlands, clip-on birds with feather tails, and approximately 500 ornaments. It took me five evenings to get it all put together. I did it while watching horror movies and the first few episodes of the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, because nothing says Christmas like family secrets and Satanic rituals.
In my defense, I needed the tree up before the Hallmark Christmas movies started airing, and this year that meant the weekend before Halloween. So really, it’s Hallmark’s fault. I mean, you can’t watch holiday movies without the tree being up. That would just be wrong.
This is not a new problem. For me, the holiday triumvirate of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas has always eclipsed all others. That they’re all crammed into the final nine weeks of the year is simply a regrettable scheduling issue.
Every year, it’s the same thing. As soon as pumpkin spice everything takes over the world, people start complaining that we’re rushing the holidays. And I get it. It’s weird to see Christmas displays alongside racks of trick-or-treat paraphernalia. The other day, as I was standing in line with bags of Halloween candy, the woman in front of me had piled the counter with tubes of wrapping paper, and I momentarily panicked that I was behind schedule already.
With the tree up, I feel better. And I kind of need that this year. It’s been a rough one. The other day, while looking through some photos, I found one of my mother, who was seated on the couch with four of the dogs. It was taken around this time last year. Then I realized that everyone in the photo is gone now.
It’s not just those losses. It’s everything happening in our country. I feel as if I’ve been living in the center of a rage and depression spiral for months.
Which brings us back to the Hallmark movies. There are 37 new ones this year, and I am going to watch every single one of them. Not only that, but I’m writing about them on my blog, Hallmark Unwrapped (www.hallmarkunwrapped.com). This is something I started doing last year, when I watched the movies to help alleviate the stress of taking care of my mother as she died from Alzheimer’s. Much to my surprise, other people enjoyed what I wrote about the movies, and so I’m doing it again.
This year I don’t have my mother’s illness to worry about. But there are other things. So many things. And the perfect remedy for them is the world inhabited by the characters who populate Hallmark holiday movies. There, even the biggest problems are solved by wrapping a cute scarf around your neck and baking cookies, and it’s impossible to stay depressed because at any moment you might be swept off your feet by a handsome Christmas tree farmer or the innkeeper who runs the quaint B&B you get snowed in at. Yes, it’s all completely ridiculous, but life already feels ridiculous, and not in a good way, so I figure I might as well combat reality with its opposite.
I almost didn’t put the tree up. I almost didn’t watch the first Hallmark movie of the holiday season. Frankly, given the very real problems we’re facing as a world, it all seemed a little silly and self-indulgent. But my sister convinced me to drag the boxes out of the attic and get started, and once I began hanging ornaments on the branches, I felt a little better. All of those problems are still there, but when I sit in the living room in the evenings with the lights of the tree twinkling, the world feels the tiniest bit less horrible.
The holiday season is a tough one for a lot of people, especially if you feel you have nowhere to belong and no one to celebrate with. And this year, a lot of us are more worn out than usual. As we head into the end-of-the-year madness, be kind to one another, and to yourselves. Whatever holidays you celebrate, think about including people who might not feel very included right now. And if you’re one of those people, do what you need to, to make it through. Put up a tree. Guzzle eggnog. Or come on over to my place and watch Hallmark movies. There’s room on the couch. ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. More Michael Thomas Ford