This December, as I wrestle with my holiday nemesis — the faux green garland monstrosity that I try to whack into submission and hang on my banister each year — I’m reminded of a simpler time when gifts were modest and decorations were tame and filled but one plastic storage container.

That time was when we were first married. He gave me wool socks and an inflatable camping mattress pad. (Are you picking up on a theme?) I gave him a tweed hat. My best friend gave us a pair of mugs painted with a couple that kissed each other when the mugs were arranged just so. We each had a stocking. Mine was quilted and lace-trimmed, a gift from my former roommate; his was a red felt version purchased from a mall kiosk with his name written on it in tacky red glitter. There was a crystal ornament from my parents that said, “Our first Christmas together.”

Robin shows off her kissing-couple mugs.

That was about it.

Our family grew and things changed. There came the pregnant lady ornament, the Baby’s First Christmas ornament, the set of Pokémon ornaments. With each child came more stockings, stockings of all kinds from relatives of all sorts. And with each child came more ornaments, ornaments of all kinds from relatives of all sorts. I added angels and nutcrackers to the stockings and ornaments. I augmented with wreaths and stars. I began to feature a nativity scene in every room.

Some people have all of their decorations in “the box.” I have accumulated enough boxes of Christmas stuff to decorate the country of Lichtenstein.

As our family grew, the gifts changed, too. One minute, I was waving a multi-purpose rattle in front of my infant’s face, and before I knew it, I was standing at the Toys-R-Us in a line so long and studded with security guards that you’d think Bono was at the other end of it.

I see the remnants and recall the years.

There is the Goofy doll in a Santa suit. It was a gift from the nurses at our local hospital, where my daughter spent her first Christmas Eve with a raging upper respiratory infection. There is, believe it or not, a set of encyclopedias lined up neatly on the basement bookshelves, given years ago to my first son — who still prefers hard copy, God bless him.

There is an old remote wired to the TV, from the year that I was awakened at 6:30 a.m. in mid-December by a phone call from a friend; she had insider information that Costco was getting a shipment of Wii video game consoles. She picked me up and drove us there, where we waited with a small crowd outside the building while clinging to our venti lattes. I remember looking around at the other bleary-eyed mothers and thinking to myself, they weren’t there for the poinsettias.

Our kids are getting older, and the day after Thanksgiving no longer marks the beginning of gift-hunting season for me. Still, I’ll find them a few things.

One son needs clothes, and he likes what I buy for him. One son wants a Tesla coil, and I do admire that particular, scientific wish. His twin never asks for anything, but he really likes bacon … and I did hear about a “bacon of the month” club. And my daughter has refused to buy herself new shoes for two years, so it’s time for me to intervene.

They all still like chocolate oranges, and Santa will still put toothbrushes in their stockings.

I look around the house. The faux green garland is clinging to the banister. My angels are on the mantle, my nutcrackers are on the sideboard, there are stockings hanging all over the place. The kissing mugs are in the kitchen.

And after 28 years together, he still wears the hat and I still wear the socks.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see