Christmas in Paradise?

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It was going to be perfect. Like Christmas with the Kranks, that Tim Allen movie from a few years ago, my family was forgoing a white Christmas at home this year. Instead, my husband, our two college-aged children and I were packing swimsuits and heading to Hawaii.

“I’m not even going to decorate!” I jubilantly declared.

“Not at all?” my son reacted, shocked.

“But, Mom, you love decorating. Are you sure?” my daughter asked.

“I’m not going to miss it at all,” I replied.

I understood their reaction. Christmas did not just occur at our home – it exploded. “But it was on sale,” I’d tell my bewildered husband when I’d add even more decorations to our overly festooned holiday home.

“If it doesn’t move, decorate it” was my motto, a tribute to my mother, the queen of Christmas. While she participated in my dad’s idea of fun – camping, horseback trail rides and fishing – Mama’s ultimate happiness involved making Christmas magical for us. Each year she created new extravaganzas. My favorite was when she positioned a 6-foot plywood Santa with the stone deer that “grazed” in our front yard year round. She draped the deer with shiny red ribbon “harnesses” to complete the tableau. Daddy laughed about the traffic jam it caused in front of our rural home.

Every year, Dad would trudge into our woods to find the perfect tree. Sometimes he’d return with one that had brown or bald spots, or a tree so tall, he’d have to lop off the top. No matter. Mama’s talents made each tree beautiful. My siblings and I would eagerly help. Every year, when we’d finish, Mama would declare: “It’s the prettiest tree we’ve ever had.” With twinkling lights reflected in our starry eyes, we always agreed.

In years past, I tried to live up to my mother’s legacy. But this year, Hawaii called. “We won’t be at home long enough to enjoy decorations,” I explained.

The only downside to our great adventure was boarding Rocky, our beloved cat, at the veterinarian’s. I swallowed my guilt, knowing he’d be pampered and petted.

Hawaii was paradise: gentle breezes, sunshine and daily rainbows. Breathtaking. Only…only…well, except for the occasional “Mele Kalikimaka” (Hawaiian for “Merry Christmas”), our days there failed to feel like the most wonderful time of the year. Every hotel lobby version of decking the halls gave me a pang of remorse.

Sigh. I had to admit it. I missed decorating. And Rocky.

Ashley, my son’s friend, had kindly agreed to check on the house while we were away. So I surreptitiously enlisted her help. Because of the holiday, even after we returned, our poor cat was going to have to spend two extra days at the vet’s office unless Ashley intervened.

Phone in hand, I stepped out on to the balcony overlooking the bluest ocean I had ever seen. “Do you think you could get Rocky home for our arrival?” I whispered to Ashley so my family wouldn’t overhear. She agreed.

Days later, when we pulled up to our house, I spied Rocky’s little orange head through the window.
“Rocky!” my daughter cried.

“How did he get here?” my son asked.

“Ashley,” I said, grinning at my clandestine partner who had met us at the airport.

Dragging in suitcases, I turned when my daughter said, “Mom, look at Rocky” and gasped. There, in front of the fireplace, was a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. Angel Ashley had struck again.

I hadn’t said anything, but my family knew me well. They had taken note of my growing discontent with Hawaii’s version of Christmas and surmised that I regretted my decision not to decorate. So, while I was calling Ashley about rescuing Rocky, my family was contacting her about decorating a tree. She and her mother graciously complied, digging out our ornaments and lights from the attic.

This was Christmas magic that rivaled Mama’s. Like her, I was convinced. “It’s the prettiest Christmas tree we’ve ever had,” I declared.

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