Our Christmases in Burundi were small. It's hard to get a good tree there and in lieu of wrapped gifts it's easier to send Amazon gift cards because you know they'll arrive on time. Our first year, I was happy that our household belongings arrived before Christmas so we had a few goodies and all my favorite movies on hand. Our second Christmas there, we had just found out I was pregnant but we weren't telling anyone yet. First trimester exhaustion and nausea kept me on the couch instead of decorating and attending holiday parties.
This year, I knew our belongings would not arrive before Christmas, yet I wanted a big first Christmas for Muffin. I resolved to find the best Christmas India had to offer.
The tree was the easy part. I went to one of the huge department stores while they just happened to be setting up their Christmas display. I grabbed the biggest, greenest fake tree they had before anyone else had the chance to buy it. I didn't like any of the decorations they had, though, and they didn't have a single strand of lights for sale (!!) so my tree sat in its box for a couple weeks.
When I started this Christmas project, it hadn't quite sunk in yet that nothing is subtle here. Color happens. Once I realized that, searching for just the right decorations became a lot more fun.
The search for lights and decorations led me to Begum Bazaar; specifically, to the store my housekeeper calls the "Christian shop," where she buys her manger sets (she's one of the few Catholics here). There are just enough Christians and Catholics in the city to keep a closet-sized shop jam-packed with Christmas and Easter decorations in business. At first glance I was hesitant, but by the time I left, I loved this shop. It was crowded with tacky, brightly colored plastic stars, balls, bells, and Santas. It was one long, narrow aisle, barely wide enough for me to walk down, and three or four salesmen coming from behind the counter to offer me silver bells, blue snowflakes, red flower garlands, while desperately trying not to brush up against me, because that would be indecent, yet totally unavoidable in such a tiny store.
I wanted white lights and they didn't believe me. "No red, ma'am? No blue, ma'am?" They finally found me four strands of white lights, but it seemed to pain them.
The decorations I picked out were no where near what I originally envisioned for my Christmas -- something tasteful -- but I'm very happy with them now. It would have been easy to buy one of everything and stick it all on the tree in a crazy mishmash of ode to Made-in-China plastic. But I took a deep breath, relaxed, and found a theme. Mike actually picked up the first box of ornaments, fabric and sequin covered balls in pink, lime green, silver, bright red, and bright blue. Then I found another box of the same colors but a different size and silver threads running through instead of sequins. We managed to find several boxes in the same colors but different sizes and patterns, and with the white lights pulling it all together I knew it would work. "Bells, ma'am? Stars, ma'am? Jesus crib, ma'am?" No thank you, no thank you.
We did go with one crazy, tacky indulgence: a blue and silver snowflake adorned with a glittery blue Santa Claus.
Before we tallied up the bill, I asked about ornament hangers. They brought me all sorts of industrial-sized coat hooks and other various bits of metal that were too big, too sharp, too rusty, too anything but appropriate for hanging ornaments on a tree. Eventually one guy brought me a box of paperclips, unbent one of them, and I said "Perfect!"
And of course, the only place to put a bright green tree is against one of our brand-new red walls.
This tree definitely sparkles.