Sure, there are the old standbys: wreaths to crookedly hang, lights to string, fuses to blow, advent calendars to ship off to grown children who might otherwise neglect to note the sequence of days leading inexorably to the 25th, and moral questions to resolve: Should I finally do as I yearly threaten, and scratch from my Christmas card list all the sloths out there who neglect to send us cards?
But the truest harbinger of the season is glue. Crazy glue or rubber cement or epoxy: they each have their merits but the choice is generally determined by proximity. Last year it was baby Jesus’ leg and a magi’s turban that had become separated from their respective bodies. Before that were the black birettas* on the tiny wooden Dresden monks. Or choristers. Whoever they are, they lost their hats. Nutcrackers are frequently in need of glue. If I ever meet a Nutcracker not in need of gluing I will have my suspicions.
I know that - theoretically - Santa’s sleigh is pulled by 8 reindeer, but I only have two, which is enough for any household. From hoof to antler tip they are each 8 inches tall. The antlers are the problem. This year one reindeer emerged from his aestivation with both antlers severed from their base. Sometimes with adhering things you can just apply the glue to the object and put the broken bit on top and leave it alone to harden. Such is not the case with antlers, which in the best of times are perilously cantilevered from their relatively small ungulate head. No, broken antlers have to be held in place over the applied glue; pressure must be applied. Time must be spent. Impatience will get you nowhere.
So the other night after dinner I settled down with a fresh tube of crazy glue, several paper towels – anticipating drippage – one reindeer and his severed antlers, and watched a PBS fundraiser featuring folk music from the sixties. Lots and lots of aging, balding, graying and thickening folk singers belting out songs I actually know the words to. I began by spreading glue on the right antler base and then fiddling with the broken antler rack until it seemed to have found its match, and held it there, one hand around the reindeer’s body, one hand holding onto the antler, watching footage of the now-dead Mary Travers singing Blowin’ in the Wind. Until the PBS station stopped the music and began to ask for contributions, at which point I thought I might mute the sound. This meant removing one of my hands from the reindeer. I chose to remove the left hand, which encompassed the body. This was a mistake: as I did so the reindeer slipped sideways and the antler was dislodged. Apparently, it takes longer for crazy glue to re-attach an antler than the entire duration of Blowin’ in the Wind. Before starting the process all over again I repositioned the remote device so that I could hit the mute button with my elbow. It had not yet occurred to me that the whole concept of a television fundraiser was that in order to enjoy the old songs I had to listen to the interminable demands for money long enough to be convinced to call in and offer up my first born child.
I repeated the gluing while singing along with If I Had a Hammer. My mind wandered and the antler fell down, still unstuck. Somewhere around the fifth or fifteenth time I reapplied glue, I noted that in fact these antlers are not correct. Reindeer have twig-like antlers, similar to elk and caribou and the deer that are at this very moment killing my nascent peach trees. But this reindeer had palmate antlers, like the moose. And only the moose. Not only was I spending the better part of a folk music festival inhaling crazy glue and getting finger cramps, but I was perpetuating an anatomically incorrect version of the legendary reindeer.
Then, somewhere in the middle of Michael Row your Boat Ashore, it dawned on me that re-gluing antlers is like a relationship (i.e. marriage). It requires constant attention. Any attempted shortcut or relaxing of attention will lead directly further breakage. The only things that works are absolute stillness, perseverance, and focus. Don’t drop the antler and don’t mess with the remote control when you are gluing. Even if the antlers belong to another ungulate altogether, stick with them because they are what you have.
* I was not sure if biretta was the correct name for the clerical headgear in question, and I am still unsure. In searching for the answer I came upon this astonishing tidbit: somewhere in Germany there is the Philippi collection - the world’s largest - of clerical and ecclesiastical headgear. A 712 page book has been published, in German, featuring this collection, and you can buy it for 119 Euros. Need I say how tempted I am?