Ty sat near the fireplace, in the chair typically used as a depository for coats and shopping bags. He was tinkering with and tuning his banjo, his Christmas present. It had been the last big gift, the last hurrah, the surprise hidden behind the chair.

We had already opened the rest of our presents: books, clothes, flannel, candy, ornaments. After the four of us--Ty, his mom, his grandfather, and I--settled down a bit, Ty's mom handed him a how-to-play-the-banjo manual.

"Did you get a banjo?" his grandfather asked from his fireside seat.

"No," Ty said, "But I have a feeling that I'm going to get one." He sounded curious, both surprised and doubtful.

"Go look behind the chair!" Ty's mom encouraged.

Ty curiously nodded toward the chair. "I can see the headstock."

And so, just as Ralphie pulled his Red Ryder BB Gun from behind the desk, so appeared the banjo from behind the over-stuffed, forest-green coat closet chair. The banjo was new, clean, and bedecked with a glittering bow that sparkled in the Christmas morning light.

"You got a banjo!"

"I got a banjo." Ty sat down, next to the various jackets and coats, and fiddled and tweaked. He strummed and picked. He tuned. He admired. The banjo's finish was a warm mahogany. It looked shiny. It looked expensive.

And for a split second, for a heartbeat, I was jealous.

It wasn't that I was jealous of the banjo itself. It wasn't that I was jealous of Ty's "Santa present." No, I was jealous that this happy moment, this surprise, belonged to Ty and his family. By default, I just happened to be there. And with that realization came a crash of emotions--genuine happiness for Ty, gratitude for those who insisted on bestowing unnecessary gifts, and homesickness. Aching, painful, nostalgic homesickness.

This was it, I thought. This was Christmas.

And then I hated myself. Hated myself for not being able to wholly appreciate that I had someplace to go for the holidays, that I had someone to spend it with. Hated myself for letting my heart overtake all that I did and felt. Hated myself for the tears that I had shed over the past two days, over the long-distance phone calls and emailed sentiments.

I had underestimated how hard it would be, how difficult it would be for me to be away from my family. True, I had been away from home before, for months at a time. I had spent other holidays in Indiana, in the company of those to whom I'm not related. But this was the first year I did not spend Christmas in Iowa. I was admittedly emotional on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but I survived. I still laughed, I still had fun. I shared some of my tacky, holiday-themed earrings with Ty's mom. I helped wrap presents. I listened to Ty's grandfather tell stories over eggs and hash browns. In my free time, I spoke to my dad. My mom. My brother and sister-in-law. My mom. My aunts. My grandmother. My mom. I ranted about suburbs to Ty's cousin, cursed Carmel and consumerism before Ty explained to him, "Dawn writes for Historic Indianapolis." I smirked. Giggled. Drank some wine. I sat next to the fire, my reptilian skin basking in its warmth. And on the couch, curled up next to Ty, I watched The Birdcage for what was probably the one-hundredth-and-forty-second time.

"Don't use that tone with me!"
"Tone? What tone?"
"That sarcastic, contemptuous tone that means you know everything because you're a man, and I know nothing because I'm a woman." 
"But you're not a woman." 
"Oh, you bastard!" 

So there was, of course, laughter. At Ty's aunt and uncle's home, I shared with his family stories about mine. We opened a few more gifts, a few more cards, and laughed as Ty and his cousins modeled hideously grotesque fake teeth. We ate dinner, and I topped off the meal with about fifteen Christmas cookies.

"There's sugar, and your aunt and uncle have a cat," I told Ty. "I'm made in the shade for the next four hours."

It was evening when we got back to the house and Ty, without even pausing to remove his coat, sat down once more and played the banjo. He was familiarizing himself with the five strings, and I recognized the beginning of a Beatles tune.

But I couldn't look at him. I couldn't do it.

Because if I did, I knew I'd want to brush the hair back from eyes, run my thumb over his brow, and meet his steel blue eyes--the same ones I had always tried to keep myself from falling for.

I interrupted his playing. "We never went to the park and looked at the lights," I said.

"We-ll," he said, with his usual intonation, "do you want to go?"

"Yes, please," I whispered, our foreheads touching.

We went to the park, and then drove through the more affluent areas of town. He took me into the hills, too, to a place where we could look down at both the city and the river.

"Whoa," I said mid-sentence, my story halted by the view. "This is ... this is nice." The view and the company. And in the hills, with "Little Saint Nick" in the background and camera in hand,  I remembered something that Ty had told me when I had first arrived: "You'll probably be thinking of warm memories and traditions past, but I hope we can create some memories of our own."

... Judging by what we did Christmas Day, our memories include looking at lights, braying carols, and repeating Jenny Lawson's over-analyses of Christmas songs.

"In the meadow, we will build a snowmaaaan ... and pretend that he is Parson Broowwwn. He'll say, 'Are you married?' We'll say, 'No, maaaaaan ...'"

"Why are we letting a snowman ask us really personal questions like that anyway?"

"He'll say, 'Are you married?' We'll say, 'No, man.' Next line should be: 'Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?'"

And so, like always, we had some laughs. I'm not entirely sure, five days later, what we all talked about and joked about during our drive around Evansville. But I do know that, at the time, it mattered. It meant everything. Because, no, I wasn't at home this year. And, yes, it was hard. I had my moments of catatonia, my tearful afternoons. But, damn it, I had a place to be for the holidays. I had people to spend it with. I had presents to open that I hadn't even asked for. I had cousins and an aunt and uncle and a mom who all gave me unexpected hugs goodbye (and hello, for that matter). It was nice. Different, yes, but nice. And as it turned out, the greatest gift that I received this year was time spent in the company of others.


I've never been a fan of how abruptly Christmas ends. As a child, I could've sworn that the season stretched on, that the snowy, free-from-school days drew longer and longer--until I practically ached to sit behind a desk, practicing my multiplication skills. As an adult, however, it seems that we are eager to move on. That the big box post-holiday sales are more important than extra time with the family. That office work is more important than generosity. That the return to "normal" is of utmost importance--that we best stop playing Christmas music, and best take the tree to the curb.

We forget. We forget so easily and so quickly. We kvetch about how chaotic our get-togethers were. We complain about our exhaustion, about the tackiness of our received gifts. We move on and move forward, not a passing glance to what was just the "most wonderful time of the year." 

December 25 is just one day out of 365. And, for me, it's still Christmas. The tree is still up, the lights are still on, and the evergreen-scented candle is still flickering, burning. The presence of such objects and scents are peaceful and nostalgic, and they remind me that kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude are for every day of the year.

So before too much of the city pushes into the new year, it's best to take a walk in the uncharacteristically-warm weather and enjoy the lights, the sights, and the sounds.


Is it really the week of Christmas? Where has December gone? (Where has this year gone?) It's as if I just put up my tree and lined my windowsills with glass bottles and snow globes. I'm almost debating on whether or not I can leave my tree up through Valentine's Day; I love it so.

I grew up decorating the tree differently each year. My mom and I would concoct a theme--Santas, homemade ornaments, woodland-themed, red and white, gold and brown, purple and silver, you name it. For now, though, my tree is bedecked with a few ornaments of my own creation, as well as a handful of vintage balls. And, of course, there are the treasured ornament swap ornaments as well.

This year, approximately seventy people participated in the ornament swap. There were swappers from 11 countries--Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Romania, South Korea, Spain, and the States. I was excited when one of my cousins joined the swap, and was even more so when my mom decided to participate! (And, to the best of my knowledge, she would like to do it again in the future.) That said, I wish to extend an enormous thank you to everyone--quite literally around the globe--for trading hanging memories. For taking part in something that encourages networking and Christmas joy. I hope everyone enjoyed the experience, and I wish for everyone to return next year as well.

So, without further ado, here are some of the ornaments that were swapped among you.

from Anabel to Courtney

 from Ayla to Shakti

from Shakti to Ayla

from  Leila to Shannah

from Shannah to Leila

from Melissa to Cassy

from Cassy to Melissa

  from Holly to Tia

  from Meghan to Sacha

  from Sacha to Meghan

  from Lisa to Rhianne

  from Emily to Hilary

from Hilary to Emily

  from Jane to Sarah

  from Sarah to Jane

from Corey to Margherita

  from Chris to Megan

from Anna to Leslie

from Blaire to Grace

  from Karm to Ioana

  from Ioana to Karm

from Jackie to Jenn

from Jenn to Jackie

  from Edi to Charlene

from Charlene to Edi

  from Chelsea to Lana

from Lana to Chelsea

  from Shary to Brittany

  from Rachael to Jo

  from Jo to Rachael

  from Antonella to Lorie

  from Sarah to Nicolette

  from Nicolette to Sarah

from Heidi to Sharon

  from Haley to Wendy

from Wendy to Haley

from Kaitlin to Arielle

from  Arielle to Kaitlin

from Lisa to Meagan

from Meagan to Lisa

  from Deborah to Sarah

from Sarah to Deborah

Merry Christmas, everyone! Happy holidays. I wish for you all to stay safe, stay warm, and enjoy good food, good company, good times. Take care, and have a wonderful Christmas. 
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