Dear Boots: December 2023

By Anna Mitchael

Questions from Deep in the Heart of Texas

Dear Boots,

Every year in our house we have the debate: to tinsel or not to tinsel. Where do you weigh in on this ultra important tree-decorating debate?

— From, The Tannenbaums

Dear Tannenbaums,

Did you know when tinsel was first used to decorate trees, it was actual silver that was hammered thin? This was in the 1600s, in Germany, when candles were lit on trees, and so the tinsel would reflect the shimmering light of the flames. As you can imagine, tinsel made from real silver was pricey. Over the centuries it has become, like so many things, more plastic, and therefore, affordable. While tinsel hit its heyday in the 1950s, in recent years it’s been showing up (or more accurately, hanging down) on modern-day trees. With all that said, as it is with so many Christmas traditions, our affection or disaffection doesn’t have as much to do with the official history of an item as with how our personal history intertwines. 

I first spied tinsel on my grandmother’s tree when I was a girl. Immediately the sparkling threads drew me in. I loved them as children love so many things at Christmas — wholly and a bit obsessively — until the holidays wrapped and my job was to pick off each individual strand so it could be used again the next year. To this day I love the look of tinsel, but immediately my mind races to the inevitable cleanup. 

Even if you leave the tinsel on the tree and take it all out to the trash — as most people who didn’t live through the Depression era wisely do — and even if you vacuum your heart out, tinsel clean up is never complete. Come summer you are guaranteed to find at least one strand hidden behind the sofa or laying flush against a cabinet. 

Until I really thought about your letter, I thought the tinsel decision was as easy as knowing where you fell on this tinsel threshold: When you spy the sparkling threads, do you think “mess,” or do you feel drawn toward the party? 

Your letter inspired me, Tannenbaums. The idea of your yearly debate around the tree was a flashing neon sign that I had it all wrong. It’s got nothing to do with the cleanup. It’s really not even about the tinsel. Or the garland. Or the real candles I place on the tree (where would I get such a batty idea?) right until I hyperventilate about fire safety and blow out the flames. It’s that we laugh and roll our eyes because isn’t that how Mom has always been? Aren’t we so lucky this is how it’s always been. Since the 1950s. Since the 1600s. In the good, bad, debatable and debating years. That we find our way to the tree, together.

— Love, Boots

Dear Boots,

What do you get for the person who has everything?

— From, Stumped on Sturgis

Dear Stumped,

I have a friend who is the most phenomenal gift giver. No Scrooge is too grumpy. No Grinch too growly. No child too fickle. No adult too disenchanted. It is pure gold to be in the room when her gifts are opened because you actually get to see that moment when a person’s eyes light up, their face softens, and that person feels seen. Not because eyeballs are on them, but seen on the inside, in the way that matters most. 

Once I asked my friend how she always chooses such perfect gifts, and she told me it was pretty easy — she just imagines herself in that person’s life. She said she closes her eyes and thinks about the person going to work or school, the person eating lunch, the person hanging out in his or her living room. “Once I can imagine their days, I can think of a gift they would probably want for that day.”

It’s hard to shop for people who seem to have everything, I agree. But no one thinks they have everything. The people you think have everything look to other people as the ones who really have everything. We could say it’s part of the human condition, though that’s sort of like saying a pit viper is a bit of a nuisance. Believing other people are the ones who have what we want is a human nightmare that traps most of us at some point or another. I don’t know if my friend’s technique of imagining a day-in-the-life of your giftee will help or not, but if it’s an opening for you to break free from the bad dream where having lots of things matters, take it, and run. Merry Christmas from me to you. 

One final note about my friend: Part of her magic is that during the unwrapping, she is always just as excited as the gift recipient. It’s not staged excitement — offering up an item she picked with love and care truly makes my friend giddy. At the end of the day we can’t control how people receive, only how we give.

— Love, Boots

A note from Boots: Thank you all for being here with me over the last year. We’ve talked about so many good things  — sequin jackets, summer camp nostalgia, miniature dogs so cute your head almost explodes. How can it get better? I don’t know, but since the Texas sky is the limit, I have a feeling we’ll be alright. I wish you and yours the happiest of holidays, and I look forward to kicking off 2024 with you in January. We absolutely, definitely, for sure are not going to talk about New Year’s resolutions. Unless they are about wearing more boots. xx.