Saving Christmas With Diwali Lights, Jewelry, and Fake Gifts

My first time celebrating Christmas started with a dumpyard.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve always loved Christmas, the hustle and bustle of buying presents, the Santa decorations in shop windows, the holiday music, and the “Home Alone” and “Die Hard” movies. Every year, I feel the buzz of cozy traditions and cheerful closeness around me, but besides a few presents exchanged with friends, I’ve never quite felt like a part of the holiday myself. I always settled for secondhand cheer as an observer of a culture I was surrounded by but separated from. There was always a tinge of disappointment in my December 25 mornings because I never quite got my Kevin-in-the-Plaza moment.

But this Christmas Eve, I found the perfect conical tree leaning upside down against the fence of what would soon be a section of boardwalk blocked off for a fragrant Christmas tree dumpyard. It befuddles me why anyone would toss their tree before the big day. Not only does it defeat the purpose of having a tree, but they cost $100! If I paid that much for a tree, I’d keep it all winter. Regardless, I thank whoever threw theirs, because for the first time, I had a chance at a true Christmas experience. My parents had always refused to let me get a tree. “What’s the point? We don’t celebrate anyway.” But after some light convincing and my promise to be a diligent caretaker, they let me adopt the abandoned tree.

After dragging it 10 blocks (with my brother cradling the base of the trunk and me clutching the top), we sanitized it, made a space for it in our living room, … and promptly realized that we didn’t have anything to decorate it with.

So we improvised. My mom found a sturdy clay vase to balance the tree in. I dug out our Diwali lights to drape around the tree. Seeing that they were only long enough for two loops, I pulled the flamingo fairy lights from my bed and wrapped them around our tree as well. I found colorful jewelry—a seashell necklace, a few chunky rings, a pair of mahogany hoop earrings, and two beaded bracelets—to fill in as makeshift ornaments. My brother sandwiched Christmas cards between branches and placed a toy Pinocchio at the top as a substitute for a star. It wasn’t a glamorously color-coordinated, glass ornament tree, but it felt so authentic that we all fell in love with it anyway.

The real twist of our Christmas was the presents. When I asked my parents if they had presents for us to put under the tree, they pointed out (again) that we do not celebrate Christmas. It was too late to buy presents. Shops were closing, and while Amazon Prime is fast, it’s not order-on-Christmas-Eve-get-by-Christmas-morning fast.

In another stroke of creativity, my brother and I devised a plan to save our Christmas. We wrapped up items from our closets and set them under the tree. Some gifts from friends, unopened body scrubs, a couple old comics, a slightly worn iPad case with a missing key, and a collection of shiny leather-bound notebooks found themselves repurposed as presents.

It was far from the perfect Christmas. There was no enthusiastic wrapper shredding to uncover an unknown object of desire. But we jokingly feigned surprise as we unwrapped our self-placed gifts. The sentiment of celebration does not need expensive gifts. Though new things are exciting, we used this celebration as a chance to grow our appreciation for the old and semi-new. (It was environmentally friendly too!)

I’d always romanticized the perfect Christmas, but it’s the imperfections that make the holiday fun. Without the robbers, “Home Alone” would just be a kid eating ice cream and watching trashy noir;; without the terrorists, “Die Hard” would just be a lonely cop trying to win back his wife; and without the Grinch’s jealousy, Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch”” would have just been another quiet, small town Christmas. While I won’t be asking for a run-in with bad guys for Christmas anytime soon, it was the little mishaps and last-minute mistakes that brought the most joy to my first real tumble with the holiday. The best Christmases are the ones that almost don’t happen—the ones that need to be saved.