This is how you Instagram Christmas.
First, you need to decide what your color scheme will be. There’s the traditional red, green, and white, but that’s kind of yawn-inducing and will figure prominently in a lot of Instagram photos.
Metallic seems like a good bet, with the warm glow and cool glint of gold, silver, pewter, and copper. It picks up a lot of glare, and the glossiness of it is somehow too shiny and artificial, even for you.
Settle for bold and interesting, a modern blend of candy pink and soft mint and rich, regal purple. Plus, you know, anything can look Christmasy. Ribbon you used for your — for Jonas’s last birthday gift, a jar of sprinkles next to snowman cookies, mulled red wine and boozy, amber cocktails.
Remind yourself not to say you are “settling.” No one is settling.
You have to find those moments. The slivers of each day that are flawless, whether they are shaped by God’s hand — or, more than likely, yours.
You have to place each ornament in the perfect spot on the tree, backlit with the right color of bulb. This may require redoing your Christmas tree multiple times because each time, you think maybe you’ll wake up from the nightmare and Jonas will be next to you, Christmas tradition in progress.
Bake a lot. If you are not sleeping or taking pictures, something should be in the oven or on a cooling rack. Make cookies and tarts and brownies and cakes. Purchase more sugar than should legally be allowed in one household. Use that weird new app Boomerang to make glorified .gifs as you whisk ingredients and make light, airy clouds of powdered sugar.
Don’t forget to artfully stack the dirty, batter-rimmed mixing bowls and spatulas because life is messy, but it can still be like, peak messy.
Christmas presents can be wrapped (and posted!) while you’re baking. Select a matte, solid wrapping paper and go crazy with curled ribbons, elaborate bows, decorative pine cones, and recently-harvested sprigs of your neighbor’s holly bush.
Arrange gifts in towers or flat lays, with handmade gift tags and ornate calligraphy. If he’s paying attention, Jonas can make out his name at least a dozen times over. Some of the boxes are empty, but most aren’t: new cufflinks, a fancy pen, a copy of The Martian on Blu-Ray.
Your first Christmas together you were huddled together, a shrill ice storm whipping through the neighborhood that morning. When it died down, you walked into the yard and the world shimmered and sparkled.
Just for Jonas, and not Instagram: cut off one of the branches on your Christmas tree, throw water on it, and put it in your freezer. Make sure it’s not lying on top of anything else or you will end up with branches that get stuck to like, Otter Pops and frozen peas. You can ask your best friend’s husband to construct a stand for it and then awkwardly overhear their conversation, which includes Todd saying you’re going through a rough patch and need support and his husband David replying that you’re being coddled and need a reality check before you go totally mental.
Just shake your head because you never understood what Todd saw in David, and this was for Jonas, for the perfect Before he needs to see from you again.
Be ready to spend Christmas alone, with your iPhone and the perfectly-staged photos and messes. Be ready for each moment to be exactly what you want, the only thing you can control.
Hear the doorbell ring, feel the adrenaline surge into your veins. You are the sun in the center of his galaxy. His path may be elliptical, he may be as far from you as his orbit allows, but he is forever circling you, forever connected to you, and he will always come back around.
You open the door, ready for an embrace, an apology, a cropped square of happiness and the mess right out of frame.
It’s not Jonas, but David.
“Todd doesn’t know I’m here,” he says, “I said I was getting Starbucks.”
“Are they even open?” You ask, because it is the only reasonable response.
“I don’t know,” David rubs his left eyebrow, a nervous twitch you never realized you noticed. “You’re his best friend, Katie. You’re miserable, and you’re alone, and you and I will never be best friends.”
“Merry Christmas, David,” you begin to close the door.
“A thousand times, you could have told Todd you don’t like me. Why didn’t you?”
“I don’t see it,” you say, “but that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just not for me to see.”
“He would have listened,” David says, and his brown eyes grow bleary and distant. “He loves you more.”
“Maybe. But we’ll never find out. We don’t even need to ask,” you say.
“We’ll never be best friends,” David repeats, “but you can’t be here, miserable and alone and pretending everything is still fine. Come over. We’ll get drunk on cranberry margaritas and play an Elf drinking game.”
You do not take pictures of your Christmas sock-clad feet in front of the television, Will Ferrell’s tall frame ruling the screen.
You don’t capture the second pitcher of cranberry margaritas toppling from the kitchen counter onto the floor, sticky puddles like blood from some kind of holiday horror movie.
And you definitely don’t immortalize Todd’s absolute failure at red velvet cheesecake, a soggy mess that the three of you promptly spit into napkins.
You leave your phone in your purse, and you miss Jonas’s curt, impersonal text: a Christmas tree emoji.
This is how you have the best Christmas of your adult life.
Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart