It’s early December and my back pain is right on schedule. The weekend after Thanksgiving I fished out the Christmas decorations from my 3-foot-high storage nemesis to make merry around the house. It’s a tradition that I question year after year because of the time it requires and the toll on my body. But there must be just enough time passing on the calendar to render me nostalgic for the ritual because I just can’t quit the Christmas crazy.

As a kid I assigned tremendous meaning to the holiday trinkets that I can only guess were purchased at Sears. The re-discovery of these gems each year was magical. Then again, the bar for magic might have been set pretty low. It took years for my siblings and I to convince our mother to get an Advent calendar with chocolate inside. We then watched as the chosen child of the night would savor a thin, chocolate wafer.

My kids are into it, too. Elliott quickly donned a Santa hat and helped me haul the boxes up the stairs. Hindsight is 20/20 but I can’t believe I didn’t have him and his young back drag all the stuff out of storage. Older yet no wiser, I am. He helped unpack until he became pre-occupied with the Jazz Santa that plays “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on the saxophone.

Margo fancies herself a Christmas aestheticist and contributes to the effort by telling me what I’m doing wrong. She came home from Target with a 6-foot-tall Buddy the Elf inflatable. Obviously, this detracts from my more tasteful woodland animal decorations, snowflake lights and antique Flexible Flyer sled. But arguing makes me look like Burgermeister Meisterburger so I set Buddy opposite the Holly tree from Santa.

The bushes had grown in so much that he could barely be seen from the street. Honestly, this was fine with me but being ensconced in the Christmas spirit I grabbed the hedge trimmer and got to pruning as the sun went down. And damn if those green extension cords don’t blend right in. I don’t think I was electrocuted – probably not. Perhaps my aching back masked whatever pain is normally associated with electrocution.

In the time I spent re-attaching a top hat and scarf to the cheeky Christmas fox, my neighbor Jeff completed the entirety of his outdoor display. Four big wreaths and a couple of potted trees, all artificial, pre-lit, festive and brilliantly simple. I was jealous. This year he added a 7-foot nutcracker by his front door which honestly could double as a terrifying Halloween display, but the point is he was done in about 15 minutes. Why can’t I just be like Jeff?

The following weekend I panicked after visiting three places and realizing Christmas tree selections were slim. I need a big, full tree because, well, I’m a tree snob but also because we have a bazillion ornaments to hang. Stop number four was a winner though. It was a big box store but I’m not saying which one because then you’ll all beat me there next year. Only snafu was that the trees were clumsily stored in a bin and the self-serve option wasn’t for the weak. I found a good one and started hauling it towards the front when my back buckled. I fell to my knees in anguish and questioned everything in my life that had led me to this point.

Through clenched teeth I fended off other would-be buyers from my beautiful tree that now lay in the aisle and managed to get a service member’s attention. In that moment it occurred to me that like our inflatable Will Ferrell, I am also 6-feet-tall with curly hair and that from a distance it might look to the neighbors like me – dressed as an elf, hiding in the bushes, and smiling like a maniac.

Tim Sullivan

Tim Sullivan is an award-winning columnist who writes about family life and thinks everything is at least a little funny. tim@sullivanfinerugs.com