"How many of these could you possibly need?" my son asked his wife in an exasperated tone.
Though he pointed in a general way at the plastic bins and packing boxes stacked around the living room, I knew exactly what he was referring to. I've been asked the same question, with the same intonation.
"So," my daughter-in-law began, "there's one for Halloween, and a couple for Christmas and then..."
My son rolled his eyes. He didn't get it. He simply couldn't understand the importance of having the right accessories for the individual holidays, and I suspect that he considered each and every container superfluous. How many light-up ceramic pumpkins are essential? And must you really dress up the front door for St. Patrick's Day if you're not Irish?
Well, yes. And sorry, son, but you shouldn't even doubt the necessity of setting a scene.
My boy and his wife had this debate in the middle of a weekend-long move to another home, one that was smaller than their last but blessedly much closer to their jobs. The sorting and tossing had been a long arduous process, a minefield of petty deliberations. When possessions are vying for closet or attic space, the natural impulse is to protect what you like most.
I so understand.
The Hubby and I had a similar discussion several years ago, after the children had moved out and we had decided to downsize. The hall closet, normally reserved for coats, was filled with different sized receptacles containing doodads and decorations for everything from Valentine's Day to Easter to Christmas. Many items had been inherited, or gifted. Some I had collected over the years, at festivals and church bazaars and post-season sales. There was a memory and a story attached to each one.
This history mattered little to The Hubby, however.
Somehow, through sheer force of will, I managed to reduce, condense and shrink my collections. I gave away the little village that had been part of my children's Christmases for so many years, an entire box of tree ornaments, lots of my Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter stuff, not to mention almost all of my Valentine's and spring-has-sprung knickknacks.
We still had to get a backyard shed, though. Then again, he got most of the garage for his precious tools, so let's call it even.
Seasonal decorating is very much a woman's thing. I can't think of a boyfriend or husband, let alone a single man, with a collection of fall scarecrows to liven up the yard. But lack of parity has done little to tamp down enthusiasm. If the men we love don't appreciate the pleasure of a well-placed garland, so be it. Our girlfriends surely will.
All the women in my circle usher in festivities in some way, whether with a simple door wreath or all-out roof to yard remodeling. We decorate for the same reasons we nest: to turn a house into a home, to build a refuge, to make anything and everything special. I, for one, love spotting the red-white-and blue wreaths on my double doors when I drive up to my house in the swelter of summer, and my spirits invariably get a lift as soon as I hammer in the stake of the wooden sign that reads: Trick or Treaters Stop Here.
There is something pure and wistful about dressing up the house; something that reminds us of the simplicity of childhood, when any change in routine is cause for celebration. Job duties and family responsibilities may overwhelm us as adults, but there's always a chance at whimsy with a poinsettia on the porch or a pastel-colored windsock announcing spring on the lawn.
(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at email@example.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)