Friends, I must confess that my holiday decorating track record isn't great. At best, I set up a small collapsible artificial tree my mom got me a few years back. It's covered in tinsel and shimmers like something straight out of the 1950s. Mom said it was perfect for me because it was easy and would fit in with my "funky vintage aesthetic," which I took to mean I like tacky old stuff. Ask my Bobby Brady-esque collection of vintage polos if that's at all true.
Anyway, my holiday decorating efforts have been heretofore somewhat limited. No stockings in my apartment, no lights. That's because, at the end of the day, I just don't get it. All this running around in the snow and slush, all this merrymaking, for what? I recently decided, however, that this year would be different. Other people love the holidays, really seem to enjoy them. Let's see what this is all about. The holiday spirit could be a part of my life. Christmas decorations are within my realm of possibility. I could make this happen.
But maybe I should start small. Smaller than my apartment. How about my cubicle? Yeah, that sounds nice and manageable, and it's a place I spend a lot of my waking hours, so it makes sense to start there. The following is an account of my efforts to cheer up my somewhat subdued cube.
I didn't want to go all-in out of the gate, just come in one day all reindeer antlers and an inflatable Santa waving at everyone who walked by. No, it all had to be more subtle. At Lands' End, we offer a wide variety of seasonal décor items, but one or two felt the most like they could be useful for year-round decorating and therefore be more inconspicuous. Battery-powered LED lights that don't feature loud holiday colors, and the decorative glass dome, hey, anything could go in there, not just holiday stuff! This is where I could start.
I replaced my handmade pen cup – a gift from a friend – with the decorative glass dome. I stuck a poinsettia flower in a small vase and put it all under the glass – voila, instant holiday spirit, right? And I figured I could always switch the poinsettia out for a more seasonal flower. Daffodils in spring, sunflowers in summer. This was going to be my new thing. I relished having a thing of my own. It felt good to have a thing.
The battery-powered lights were just as easy, if not easier. I pinned them up on my pegboard, which got instantly cheerier. I spent the rest of the day being not-so-productive at my desk, the poinsettia occasionally catching my eye, and I would smile a smile that comes from deep within, the genuine smile you smile at a new kitten or as a result of a childhood memory recently stirred back into your consciousness. This was going better than I ever expected.
Not all of my attempts, dear reader, were successful. I brought in a candle, which the departmental safety manager informed me – so swiftly, as if she'd anticipated its arrival – violated office standards for fire safety. Yes, a candle we sell ourselves (balsam and cedar, our new favorite scent for this winter!) violated office policy. I was asked to return the candle to my car.
The garland I brought into the office a few days later met a similar fate. It got off to a good start, though I will admit 12 feet of garland is way more than you might think it is, and when you compare 12 feet of garland with the perimeter of your cubicle, you realize just how small your space is. I planned to hang a snowflake Christmas ornament on it. Once I got a sort of zig-zag pattern going on my pegboard, my cube neighbor came by, took one whiff of my fresh-clipped evergreen garland, and informed me that it would have to go immediately. Apparently, though rare, evergreen tree allergies exist, and their scent is off-putting and headache-inducing to some people. I removed the garland and took it to my car.
Walking into work one day I thought to myself You know what this place needs? A throw pillow! How had I not thought of this before? Throw pillows are perhaps the easiest possible way to incorporate seasonal flair into your environment. I selected a hand-looped pillow featuring a sledding dog – very cute. I put it in my desk chair, admired my holiday spiritedness, and then realized the pillow took up too much space in my office chair. There was only half the seat left. I tried, with much discomfort, to share my office chair with the throw pillow, with little success. I settled on leaving the pillow leaning against my pegboard on my desk, like a display piece. Though not used for its intended purpose, it's a downright delightful addition to the scene, especially since my other recent endeavors had fallen through.
Okay, so you win some, you lose some. So what? Things were still going great as far as I was concerned. My next step had to be cheery, maybe more Christmas-y, but just couldn't have any odor or open flame. That's easy, right? I thought hard and landed in one place: stockings.
What says "holiday decorations" more clearly than a row of stockings hung by the mantel (with care)? I ordered a custom monogrammed needlepoint stocking with cute snowshoeing bunnies hand-stitched on the front and my childhood nickname, Jimmy, scrolled across the top in loopy script. It was the cutest thing. People would love it! Maybe friends and admirers would slip treats and small gifts in my stocking – and then they, too, could get custom needlepoint stockings for me to return the favor. I brought it to work and hung it on my pegboard. Perfect use of the pegboard.
What I didn't anticipate is just how my stocking would be interpreted. People acted like I'd just gotten a new inbox or something – memos, various pieces of paperwork, a flier about someone's kid's school fundraiser, all got stuck in my stocking. Not a single gift or treat. My list of admirers, it seemed, was somewhat smaller than even my most conservative estimation. The resolution for this problem was less elegant than I would normally prefer, but I was all-in on this stocking thing, so I needed it to work. I posted a sign next to the stocking that read:
This stocking is for the reception of GIFTS and the dissemination of HOLIDAY CHEER and NOTHING ELSE.
It seemed to do the trick. I cleared out the memos, and over the following weeks, someone dropped a small chocolate in the stocking. Another morning I came in to find a high-fiber breakfast bar in the stocking. We're calling this one a win.
The best lesson from this whole excursion into holiday cheer came last. On a whim, I ordered a few Christmas sweaters. Lands' End just rolled out a new line of heritage-inspired sweaters we call the Lighthouse Sweaters. They feature bold and fun stripes, Fair Isle-inspired patterns, and they're darn cozy. I put those sweaters in my rotation of winter wear, and I noticed a shift in how I felt when I wore them. My usual humbug self was replaced with a different person – someone decidedly spirited. I would put on my sweater in the morning and be overcome with memories of drinking hot chocolate by a campfire, of visiting my grandparents who lived in the snow-blanketed Midwest. A simpler time, a better time. A time when family and tradition really meant something to me, before the world's grind had made me hard and calloused. I felt, for the first time in a long time, truly free and beautiful. I called my mom more frequently in that couple of months than I ever had since leaving for college. I watched It's a Wonderful Life and cried, really cried. I saw beauty in the human condition again, where for so long I had seen only sadness. It was as if I'd kept a piece of myself locked in a cabinet for decades and, just by allowing myself to feel warm and comforted again, I was able to find that person I'd hidden from even myself.
The holiday spirit lives in each of us, and it can therefore live in any space we inhabit. My journey to make my cubicle more cheery and spirited, I realize, didn't come from a place of wanting to fill a space with cheer. I wanted to find that cheer again within myself. It is truly incredible how little things like a sweater, a whiff of pine, a warm mug of hot cocoa, can make all the difference in the world, and, indeed, in ourselves.