This was posted today in my fiction blog at Moonchilde, but as it makes a nice post for a Holidailies submission, as well as being my December contribution to The Alchera Project, I'm posting it here too. It's not fiction, so it's allowed to be in the blog. Really.
When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things about Christmas was the tinsel. Those bits of silvery metallic ribbon that we draped over the plastic branches of our four-foot-tall tree seemed like strands of dream stuff, making the tree come alive, just the way that real icicles turn the winter world into fairy land by making everything all a-shimmer.
I remember sitting near the tree, with the lights off in the living room, long after my parents had retired to their room. Of course, I was supposed to be in bed, but perhaps the dog had to go out, or maybe there was just some part of my brain that couldn’t rest. I found peace in the glow of multicolored lights and the refraction caused by tinsel. I found magic in the way it held a static charge – run your fingers along a strand of the stuff, and a spark will form at the end. I found a few minutes of idle pleasure of the kind not dissimilar from the feeling brought on by turning a paperclip into desktop sculpture, by stretching a flat length of tinsel until it was as thin as it could possibly get, and watching the way the surface changed from reflective to flat and opaque, to a dead, lifeless thread of grayish stuff.
The year I was seventeen, my senior year in high school, my love of tinsel died. My mother’s only brother died of lung cancer that year, right around Thanksgiving, the first of many subsequent November deaths in our family. He was older than she was, but not so much so that they hadn’t had good memories of childhood adventures. He was an amazing artist, both with pen and ink, and with a camera. He was a competent craftsman – I still have the walnut toy chest he made for me when I was a toddler, though the scroll piece is missing. I use it at the foot of our bed, as a step for the dogs, as a place to sit to put on shoes (our bed is too tall), and to store odds and ends. (It retains a sweet smell that I cannot place. It’s not cedar-sweet, but neither is it anything like the camphor found in moth balls. I think of it as smelling like my uncle, really.) He taught me how to bait a hook, one year, when he and my grandfather took my cousin and me fishing off the fisherman’s pier. He had a voice thick with fallen dreams and made for telling stories, and I’m sad that I never knew him as an adult, that he was, at the time he died, little more than a name to me. But I was named for him (he called from where he was AWOL in Canada to instruct my mother not to give me HIS name, as he felt it was cursed, so she used the first letter instead), and I suppose I’ve always felt it was a sort of bond between us. And he loved tinsel. He loved tinsel so much that when my mother and her siblings were growing up, putting the tinsel on the tree was his special job, just as in my house, it was mine.
The first Christmas after he died, my mother bought tinsel, intending to wait til Christmas Eve to put it on the tree, leaving the tree glitter-free until then, in remembrance. Somehow, we never managed to take the step and actually open the package, and it was stored away with the Christmas things for the next year. We didn’t open it then, either, or any year thereafter, and somehow, over the years, the memorial act of not putting tinsel on the tree became habit, and then tradition.
This year, staring at my tree, I can’t help but think of my uncle, of my mother, celebrating Christmas in her newly built house, each of us separated from family during this holiday, and a part of me wants to buy a box of tinsel and strew it over the branches. I won’t, of course, because I have small dogs who like to investigate everything, and a strand of tinsel swallowed or otherwise ingested can kill an animal. And yet, even though I’ve not purchased tinsel in the eleven Christmases I’ve spent with Fuzzy, even though it’s been almost twenty years since any ornament of mine has been near the silvery stuff, a few stray strands make it onto my tree.
I’ve come to think of them as a message from my restless, artistic uncle, who died without finding his real niche – part warning, part understanding – since I’m much the same. To me, the metallic icicles are a voice from beyond.
To others, I guess they’re just tinsel.