What makes the holiday season special? Everyone probably has their own reason. It could be the way the weather changes. It could be something religious. It could be the transition to a new year, a fresh start. But I know what does it for me. 

Photo by Ally Buchanan

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my reason for liking the holidays is any better than anyone else’s. I just think that the magic for me has to do with the change in the spaces we occupy. So many different faiths and cultures have important traditions and events that occur between November and January – Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Diwali, the Solstice, and Christmas, just to pick a handful – but as someone who’s agnostic and grew up with the “tree and Santa Claus” Christmas, I have very little connection to any of those beautiful, rich traditions. So why do I still love that “holiday glow” that shows up in November and lasts until New Years? I shouldn’t have a good reason, but I do have one: décor.

Hear me out! What usually lets you know that the holidays are fast approaching? As a kid, it was two things for me: cartoons and bells. I’ll start with the bells, because it’s quicker to say that it felt like Christmas when I would rub my palm over the frost-foggy windows of my mom’s PT Cruiser (which I was very much not supposed to do because it streaked the glass) to be able to better see the giant red bells, easily twice the size of me, being hung up on the lamp-posts all down Lougheed Highway. I love those, and it brings me unfathomable joy that despite everything else that’s changed in the twenty years I’ve been alive, those red bells still appear every year. See? Décor. Sets the stage for everything. However, let me move on to the cartoons.

Now I get it – cartoons aren’t really décor, but they were still part of my holiday space, especially as a child. My mom would drop off Beckett and me at Shelley’s House before she went to work, and between the time that she dropped us off and the time Shelley would buckle us into carseats in the red van, there was just enough time for exactly one-and-a-half cartoons including commercials. Now, I have no idea if Teletoon was a Canada-wide channel, or if it was another Knowledge Network (which apparently only exists in B.C. or was a fever dream that I invented. I swear to god it was channel 5 when I was 5, but who knows). On Teletoon, every November or December, they’d start to play The Secret World of Santa Claus. I cannot vouch for the quality of this TV show, because I haven’t seen a single episode of it since I was 11. However, just like the MarineLand commercials heralded the arrival of summer, The Secret World of Santa Claus playing during my weekday cartoons meant that it was going to be Christmas.

Photo by Marlowe Evans

I still value holiday spaces. I love the fireplace channel on the TV, especially since they added it to Netflix so I can play it in my apartment (I am 20 years old, no I don’t own a television). I love having my own Christmas tree, and nothing has made me more proud in 2020 than the fact that, for the first time in my life, I have my very own full-sized, real Christmas tree, that I purchased with my own money, for the absolutely insane price of $20. Those bad boys set you back $80 at the minimum where I’m from. So my holiday space is defined by that tree, and the popcorn and juniper chains that I made for it, and the little silver star I bought with my best friend when we still lived together and tried to keep a Christmas tree in a metal pail full of water on top of our microwave. There are candy canes (enough for every reindeer) and a cat ornament my boyfriend bought me. It bumps against my ceiling slightly, because I live in someone’s basement, but it is my tree, and my space, and I think it’s beautiful. Just as beautiful as any of the spaces I create for myself around any holiday – the plastic bat and cobwebs at Hallowe’en, or the actual 12lb turkey I cooked at Thanksgiving – but I think it feels more important. 

Creating these winter holiday spaces is a labour we undertake to make the world less plaid and ugly in the dark. The nights are long now, and the snow has given me the choice of slushing it in my hopeful-looking green-checkered Vans, or rubbing my ankles raw in the riding boots I use like they’re for snow. I will be honest and say that I really, really hate winter when it comes down to weather. I don’t like how the cold gets in my bones, and I don’t like how the snow makes everything look white and dead. But making my own home bright, reds, greens, blacks, silvers, blues – a million jewel tones – brings colour back into the world until spring can come again. Humans fill their homes with beauty in the winter like animals that burrow down to sleep. That’s what makes a holiday space in winter different from any other time of the year. 

We survive the harshness by lining our burrows with warm lights and candles.