Decorating for Christmas

Illustration by Alexei Chtykhine

Dear Knoxonomist:

The other day, my girlfriend of 10 months asked me if I could help get her house ready for Christmas. We’ve both been married before, and it seems that her former husband did most of the labor-intensive decorating. In a moment of weakness and distracted by a Packers game, I nodded in the affirmative. How bad could it be? Now I’m in her attic, staring at 15 boxes full of Christmas, with no instructions in sight. All I’ve ever done is put up a fake tree and hung a wreath on the door. She wants a nine-foot tree for the great room, and to decorate the evergreen growing up the side of the house. Help!

–Dave, Farragut

Dear Desperate Dave:

The Knoxonomist can sympathize with your problem, having balanced on many a ladder in his day, and is happy to help. There is one thing to keep in mind before we get started, however, something that governs the quality and authenticity of your behavior during holiday preparations.  She wants you to be the guy like her ideal Dad, who can solve all problems with baling wire, duct tape, and common sense. She has a romanticized version of how easy it was back when a childhood house looked perfectly like a Christmas wonderland, and you’ll have to cope just as any Dad would and strive to exhibit ingenuity over flawless execution.

Plan on two solid weekends, with three or four weekday nights thrown in for good measure when you’ll make sketches and eat cookies. Don’t fool yourself—start in November before Thanksgiving. The first Saturday should be devoted to getting the boxes out, planning, and making trips to the home improvement store. Always get the boxes out first. The long, storied histories of each item will give you time to plan. There are a lot of questions.

Once everything is laid out and talked over, take some measurements (even if they’re meaningless), make a list on a smallish pad using a pencil, preferably with a hand-whittled point, and head to the store. The Knoxonomist has learned that nothing says serious home improvement like looking comfortable with a measuring tape.

Throw some wire, brads, picture hangers, zip-ties, and eyebolts in your cart, then try to find an older gentleman working there. Ask him questions about what you’ll need to pull off some of the problems confronting you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the accumulated wisdom of multiple generations. The Knoxonomist’s father, for example, held him by the legs out a second story dormer as he strung some lights midway on the roof. I don’t recommend this, but it raises an important point: be daring and fearless. Again, this matters more than perfection.

The next day, lay everything out on the ground outside as a kind of practice run and head to the store. Come home with a few things and get serious about deciding where to put the eyebolt (top of a door jamb?) to best support the tree.

On the second weekend, you have to pull it all off. Invite a handy friend over to help out, and make a day of it. It helps if one of you has a truck and sawhorses. Put those out and put something on them. Have at least one dangerous moment, then go out for beers, having accomplished a great task and earned your libation.

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