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(Lisa Smith Molinari)

It’s December, and we haven’t managed to snap a decent picture for our annual family photo cards. I haven't even started buying gifts for my various relatives, friends, family, neighbors and pets. I haven't baked Francis' favorite Cranberry Pinwheels or Hayden's favorite Onion Swiss Bread or Grammy's favorite Cheese Ball. I haven't moved the Elf on the Shelf from his box in our basement.

And I'm embarrassed to say, we haven't even bought a tree yet.

The stress is beginning to build, but I won't panic because I already did the one thing that keeps me grounded through the holidays.

No, I didn't put a shot of Jameson in my morning coffee. I didn't book a flight to Cancun to hide out from my family. And I didn't convert to Buddhism to avoid the holiday altogether.

All I did was plug in my old ceramic Christmas tree.

If you were born before 1990, you know what I'm talking about. Our mothers, aunts and grandmothers made them at local ceramics shops back in the day. When I was a kid, it seemed there was a ceramic Christmas tree glowing in the window of every split-level, doublewide and brick ranch in town.

Problem was, we didn't have one in our brick ranch. Why? My mother thought they were tacky. Sigh ...

Sometimes, we visited our friend’s house who had a huge ceramic tree in the front window. I couldn't stop staring at it. The vivid colors of the plastic pegs, glowing from the light bulb within, seemed impossibly pure. Cobalt blue, emerald green, golden yellow, ruby red and hot magenta. It was an irresistible feast for my ceramic-tree-deprived eyes.

To me, that lighted tree somehow symbolized everything good about the holiday season.

Twenty years later, I was pushing our stroller through a seedy indoor flea market in an abandoned strip mall in Virginia Beach when I saw it.

Francis was deployed and I had three kids under the age of 5. Needless to say, I was stressed. I have no idea what possessed me to wander into the flea market, but three aisles in, past the creepy dolls, the handbag knockoffs and the suspicious electronics, there it was — a beautiful 1971 ceramic Christmas tree gleaming like a beacon in that broken-down strip mall.

"Eleven dalla?” the sweet Pilipino vendor suggested from behind a table heaped with old junk. I counted out the paltry sum and took my prize home. There on my kitchen counter, radiating precious jewel tones beside my toaster, was my sanity.

The mesmerizing sight of the vintage tree transported me away from the mayhem. Away from the obligation to spend hundreds on meaningless gift cards for people we hardly know. Away from the photo cards mailed out to so many recipients, there's no time to even sign our names. Away from the minute-by-minute distraction of cell phones. Away from the 24-hour lineup of holiday television programming clogging our DVRs.

Instantly, the lighted tree catapulted me back to childhood. To a time before the Internet, digital photos, virtual reality, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Throwback Thursday.

When we scratched the frost off of our windows with grubby fingernails, and couldn't wait to get outside. When we ate all our peas at dinner because “A Charlie Brown Christmas" was airing soon. When Christmas cards were special because we only got 10. When candy canes were a pretty big deal. When we called to thank our aunt for the crocheted hat from the rotary phone on the kitchen wall. When we lounged under the tree in footed pajamas, gazing into the saturated colors of the dangerously hot incandescent bulbs, our bellies full of chocolate chip cookies.

When the holidays, and life in general, were simple and sweet.

Nowadays, the first thing I do to prepare for the holiday is plug in my ceramic Christmas tree to remind me of the simple joys of the season. But there's no need to run out to a seedy indoor flea market in search of a handmade relic like mine. Just find the simple things that bring goodness and light to your holiday.

Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com, and in Lisa’s book, The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com. Email: meatandpotatoesoflife@gmail.com.


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