I received an email inviting me to a local tree lighting festival and screamed a thousand screams inside. Don’t get me wrong: I love the holidays. I also hate the holidays. I don’t know that I can attribute that to a Gemini star sign or the fun house, hall of mirrors that defined my childhood holidays via mother’s loose grip on what she could do and what she should do.

It’s funny. Now that she’s up there in years her memory or recall of events is rose-colored. “Oh, I just toss a wreath on the door nowadays. But you do remember how I decorated the entire front of this house with lights and pine. Remember the green foil door?”

No. Actually I remember swaying on a wobbly ladder back in the day, hooking lights and living in fear that something wouldn’t look correct to mother’s artistic watchful eye. I decorated THAT house. And I took it all down. And that’s the thing about holidays. Or holiday memories, I mean. They magnify all that is good in a family and all that is bad. Just like weddings and funerals do.

I recall coming home from school one day and making some gleeful remark about Christmas coming while mother, clad in 70’s peach Vanity Fair robe, manhandled a coffee pot and a KOOL. My coming home from school often aligned with her rise and shine. A fact she kept hidden and stage-managed very well from my father’s knowledge. Household tip: place the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room floor before your man gets home. But I digress.

I must have been 15 or so; you know how jumpy and awkward teens are to begin with. But my comment on the pending magical holidays garnered a swift backhand across my face. It came sudden. Swift. And with deep, hot anger. It’s as if my youthful joy was not allowed or merited in the presence of someone whose own early childhood was rocked by divorce and near abandonment.

And it’s why–to this very day, in my own advancing years, I refuse to back down, give in, or toss in the towel when it comes to holiday trim and decorating my own home. I see some peers doing less and less; others jet off to warmer climes during Christmas so they frame absent holiday decor with “…it will only be up for a week and then we’re all in Barbados…” But for me each year presents a renewed challenge to make it brighter, more shiny, and exceedingly joyful. It takes all that I’ve got to not slide into the ‘why bother’ mentality that envelopes mother’s holiday season.

It also serves as a visual reminder: I am nothing like her. And I am everything like her. Come hold my ladder, dammit.