Every year (well, twice), we host my son’s flag football team at our home for an end-of-the-season chili bash.
Nine or 10 kids and one or two or three of their parents/stepparents fill our little kitchen and living room and basement and eat and drink and laugh and run (the kids do most of the running). It’s lovely.
Their football season ends in December, so the party is also an incentive to get our holiday act together — tree up, stockings hung, wreath on the front door, outdoor lights strung.
The Sunday prior, we bought a tree and mounted it in its stand.
The Tuesday prior, I put “Elf” on the TV, whipped up some hot chocolates, hauled the ornaments down from the attic, told my kids to ignore their homework and got to work making the house look warm and inviting.
By the time Saturday — party day — rolled around, the house and its inhabitants were ready.
The clock struck 5. Friends rolled in bearing food and drink. Coats piled up on the bed. Desserts filled the table. Kids disappeared into the basement, land of the footballs and strewn-about toys.
And then the tree fell.
The carefully selected, painstakingly erected, perfectly lighted, lovingly decorated tree, standing firm for six days and six nights, crashed to the floor, sending pine needles and glass shards and tree water everywhere.
So much for warm and inviting.
My husband and my son’s coaches lifted the tree back into its stand and spent the next half hour or so lying on the floor, working to re-secure it, trying not to draw blood. The rest of us scurried around with towels and garbage bags, sweeping away the sad remnants of cherished holidays past. (Just kidding. I got most of the ornaments on clearance at Target last year. We put the cherished ones on a little pink tree in another room.)
Anyway, it was quite a scene.
And, naturally, a lesson. (You guys knew a lesson was coming.)
It’s wonderful and worthy to fill your home with light and color and festive decor, but holiday cheer can’t be purchased from a store. Not even Target.
Holiday cheer is kids running around like a bunch of bison in the basement, maybe, possibly creating enough reverberations to knock over a tree in the living room above.
Holiday cheer is setting down your chili and your drink to grab a towel or a broom and laugh with your friend as you clean up her colossal mess.
A friend noted afterward that her favorite comment of the night was, “I thought there was water in this base? Oh (motioning to the floor), there it is.”
Holiday cheer is standing to the side, directing a couple of flag football coaches trying desperately to straighten a tree in its stand. “A little to the left. Nope, too far. Better. Better.”
Holiday cheer is finding a handful of ornaments that didn’t break and joyfully, victoriously hanging them back on the now sort of mangled branches.
Holiday cheer is refilling your drink when you’re done.
Holiday cheer is knowing how incredibly blessed you are to have friends who show up, friends who laugh, friends who help, friends who appreciate your efforts and nod along in recognition and solidarity when those efforts fall short.
I set out to create a warm and wintry scene, to show off a house where traditions are honored and decorations are displayed in a timely manner.
The decorations had a mind of their own, and I’m glad they did.
There was a time in my life when that sort of mishap would have left me mildly mortified — convinced I wasn’t cut out for hosting, certain I was barely cut out for adulthood, embarrassed at my inability to even decorate properly, for Pete’s sake.
That time has passed. This time is better. This time leaves more room for gratitude and laughter and a sense of we’re-all-in-this-togetherness that’s tough to pull off when you’re worried about appearances.
This time reminds me a tree is never more gorgeous than when it’s surrounded by friends, even when that tree is splayed horizontal on the floor and the friends are tiptoeing around it, trying not to step on glass, sweeping and laughing and helping clean up life’s latest mess.
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @heidistevens13.