The Postscript

Dressing up for Christmas

Carrie Classon

I tend to be a Christmas maximalist; at least if you ask my husband, Peter, that’s what he would say.

Peter would dispense with the tree, the presents and most of the outings. He’d hang a few ornaments on a houseplant, have a nice meal and go to bed early. But Peter cares for me a lot, and he knows how much I love Christmas.

I want a live tree. If I can’t chop it down myself, I’ll haul it home from the hardware store. I want lights on the balcony and a little present for everyone. I want fancy new wrapping paper and pretty, old ornaments and a holiday setting on the table. I want to light too many candles, bake too many cookies and end up with a floor covered with ribbon and powdered sugar at the end of the night. Peter is very patient.

And I want to get dressed up.

Some of my best memories of Christmas involve my Auntie Jo. She and her family would drive up north to my grandparents on Christmas Eve with a car packed with presents and cousins and a mischievous dog. Thinking back on it now, I’m sure it was stressful for my Auntie Jo. But my memory is of the car pulling in, and Auntie Jo hugging everyone, her arms full of bags of unwrapped gifts and luggage. And this was, for me, the official start of Christmas.

Auntie Jo would head downstairs to wrap presents and, at some point, their dog, Twinkie, would make a mad dash out the door. We’d all scour the neighborhood until we found Twinkie. Then Auntie Jo would go to change her clothes and emerge more resplendent than the Christmas tree.

It was always a treat, as a child, to see what my Auntie Jo would wear at Christmas. I knew there would be glitter or sequins, and probably both. It would be the sort of outfit a person would wear only for a very special day, and seeing Auntie Jo dressed up made it a special day for me.

I understand getting dressed up is not for everyone. A tree is a lot of work. And I don’t think holiday preparations should be a burden – something on the must-do list when there are more important things to do.

But every year, I think back on my Auntie Jo, who had such a long drive and so much to do (and such a naughty dog!), and how she would step into the living room, reflecting the Christmas lights. I received a lot of nice presents, and we had a wonderful meal, but seeing my Auntie Jo dressed in her Christmas finery was always a highlight for me.

I am still lucky enough to see my Auntie Jo at Christmas. And, although I will never wear sequins as well as she did, I do my best.

Because dressing up is part of how I participate in Christmas. It helps to make this time of year memorable. When I light the candles on my mantle and string lights outside, it’s a recognition that the darkness of winter will pass. Like my Auntie Jo, I want to mark this passage of time; I want to make this day different from other days. Dressing up for Christmas reminds me that we need some extra sparkle in this darkest time of year.

And so (while I try to take it easy on Peter) I am decorating the house, and I’m lighting too many candles. And I already have a dress picked out for Christmas.

Wild children

The children were in the pew in front of me.

We had not arrived early enough at my sister’s church for the Christmas Eve service to secure a seat in the back, so we were in the fourth row. The first row is never used by anyone; the second row is only for people who arrive impossibly late. The third row is, for all intents and purposes, the front row, and that’s where these two wild-looking children were.

The children were provisioned with colored pencils and drawing paper but, other than that, looked rather neglected. Neither one had seen a comb in a long time. Both were dressed in a combination of outdoor wear and pajamas. Neither was actually sitting on the pew. The girl was sitting on the floor, using the bench as a drawing table. The boy was sprawled out across the bench, arms and legs akimbo. I felt myself making judgments. I get that way sometimes.

“Seriously,” I thought, “is getting out of their pajamas too much to ask?”

The children paid no attention to the service. When the congregation rose to sing, the children remained where they were. When the other kids went up for the children’s sermon, the boy disappeared outside, and the girl remained where she was.

“Where has he gone?” I wondered. These children seemed feral to me. “Probably raised by wolves,” I said to amuse myself. “He’s gone out to hunt squirrels,” I conjectured. “Likely he is eating one now.” The boy returned and lay back down on the pew. “Why are they even here?” I wondered.

I looked at the skirt I had put on for the occasion, the good coat I had brought for wearing to church, the time and effort the other parishioners had taken before leaving their homes. These children (and whoever had transported them to church) had clearly missed the memo.

I was surprised when, as the service was about to end, a man joined the children. The boy suddenly snapped out of his lethargy and went to the man, who wrapped him in a hug. The boy and the man remained that way for a long time, oblivious to the service, enfolded in a hug.

“Did you see the organist’s kids in the front row?” my sister asked her husband after we got home.

“Yeah,” he said. I was about to make some snappy remark about their lack of grooming when my sister continued.

“Her husband left them just a couple of weeks ago. He won’t even answer his phone when the kids call. Her son is autistic, and she is just beside herself.”

“The husband was there,” my brother-in-law told my sister. “He came into church at the very end.”

“Really?” my sister said and shook her head.

I realized what a colossal ass I was.

There are so many troubles I have never known. There is a world of pain I have never experienced. While I was dwelling on a couple of hastily dressed kids with messy hair quietly doodling in the front pew, there were wells of pain and loss and confusion right in front of me that I could not imagine.

I do not like that prissy woman in the nice skirt who sits in judgment of those poor kids. I do not like her, and I don’t want to be her. While I was focused on grooming and decorum, a tired, lost man took his child in his arms and – right in front of me – a Christmas miracle occurred, a miracle I was too blind to see.

Till next time,


Carrie Classon

is a nationally syndicated columnist, author, and performer. She champions the idea that it is never too late to reinvent oneself in unexpected and fulfilling ways. Learn more about Carrie and her memoir, “Blue Yarn,” at