Pretty much as soon as summer ends, I have Christmas tunnel vision. My September to December routine has been perfected over the years. Once September hits, even if it’s still 90 degrees outside, the holiday prep begins. At least in my tinsel-coated, fir-scented brain it does.
I start my shopping in September and do the bulk of it in October and early November. I do still bathe myself in Halloween spookiness during October, but on Nov. 1, I fire up my holiday playlist without shame.
My most beloved holiday tradition is to decorate the tree with our two massive containers of ornaments on Black Friday or the Saturday after while watching a Christmas Carol double feature, usually with my mom: The Muppet Christmas Carol and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. The combined running time of both movies aligns perfectly with the tree decorating process (trust it). They are always the first Christmas movies I watch during the season, and I must always watch them while trimming the tree. I love rules.
These two movies are my favorite Christmas movies. They are the best Christmas movies. They have the best Christmas songs. Michael Caine plays a very serious (and very good) Ebenezer Scrooge alongside Kermit the Frog and Rizzo the Rat in the Muppets’ take on the classic. Mr. Magoo’s version features perfectly mod mid-century animation and whimsical tunes. They have been a part of my holiday routine for decades, and Mr. Magoo was one of my mom’s favorites when she was a kid. It’s my favorite way to kick off the season.
This year, though, was different. We put the tree up a week earlier than normal to save a little post-Thanksgiving clean-up and decorating time. And it threw my whole timeline out of whack! Morally, I was perfectly fine with decorating the tree. But I just could not bring myself to pop in one of the Christmas Carols, let alone both of them.
I compromised by listening to my (talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before) Christmas playlist, and it was fine. But it just didn’t feel right! My brain felt thoroughly decked.
The inside of my head is made up of only holiday lights and dogs wearing Santa hats.
And then my mom baked biscotti. She makes the crunchy Italian cookies a few times throughout the year, but I always think they smell different around the holidays. They usher in the red and green haze that envelops everything I look at until Dec. 31. The sweet aroma of anise righted my mind back on track. It was like a biscotti-shaped lightbulb went off in my head—we remembered that we added a third container for the ornaments last year to give them a little breathing room (they are sentient), and that we forgot to bring it down from the attic with the other bins. So I was still able to do some tree trimming the weekend after Thanksgiving and set the trajectory of my routine back on track.
Generally the week after all the decorating is done, I start wrapping gifts while watching festive movies. There will be multiple rewatches of both Christmas Carols. Jingle All the Way. The Santa Clause. Christmas Vacation. Just writing their titles down is giving me the giggles. The inside of my head is made up of only holiday lights and dogs wearing Santa hats.
It’s not really the holidays, though, until my mom makes crab sauce. This sauce—homemade tomato sauce cooked with whole crabs—has been the guiding light of my Christmas mindset since I was a kid. Once I smell it, it’s all over. I’ve become full-on Holiday Sam. The tree, the movies, the songs, the smells and food—they all come together to summon her like Captain Planet.
She will wear a skirt dotted with dogs dressed in festive clothes. She will wear a different pair of holiday-themed socks every day from the Friday after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve. She will listen to the Rat Pack Christmas album and Stan Kenton’s A Merry Christmas and NSYNC’s seminal classic “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.” She will not stop taking pictures of her old, sleepy dog in front of the tree, and she definitely will not hesitate to show you every single photograph. She will do all of this without shame.
Still looking for that sauce, though. Mom, what are you waiting for?