I've always had a dicey relationship with Christmas. In terms of life's pleasures, it's somewhere between magical fantasy and a triathlon. Dragging a full-grown tree in and out of my home each year, schlepping through endless stores, and hearing loops of Madonna's "Santa Baby" are slightly more fun than drinking old eggnog. So last year when asked to have my home included in our town's annual Holiday Open House, I was torn. On one hand, it was flattering. On the other, I was nervous. I felt like the Grinch invited to open his cave to Whoville. Could I summon the necessary Yuletide spirit? Could I pretend I was gleefully in love with this holiday?

The morning of the tour, I gave my house one final inspection. Our decorated tree looked pretty atop its new skirt. I had bought two poinsettias, one for the kitchen, the other for the den. My holiday knick-knacks were scattered about. I was tweaking the holly arrangement on my coffee table when the tour lady assigned to our house arrived. That was our cue to leave and I must admit ... I was feeling good. For a curmudgeon, I thought I had produced quite the wonderland and couldn't wait to check out the rest.

I smugly arrived at the first house, gazed about, and knew I was deader than Jacob Marley. Potpourri scented the air. Carols played softly. Voluptuous garlands adorned every door, stairway, and fireplace. There weren't two measly poinsettias, but acres of red, pink, and white leaves. Balsam wreaths hung everywhere. Adorable figurines twinkled from each surface. And then there were the trees. Evergreens were legion -- in the entry hall, living room, family room, den, office, kitchen, powder room, even in the laundry room. While my one paltry fir was decorated with wilted handmade school ornaments, these designer trees had themes -- bird themes, Americana themes, international themes, western themes, antique themes. I wanted to crawl under a Christmas cactus and die.

I drove shaky and red-faced to the next locale. Surely they can't be all like this I thought nervously. Guess what? It was fancier. Think Currier & Ives meets Martha Stewart meets FAO Schwarz. Think resplendent and dazzling. Think Nutcracker on steroids. I dizzily slogged to the next house and the next, trying to keep my head high as each was more electrifying than the last. After the fifth abode with their gingerbread replica of Manhattan, I gave up. It was then I realized this event should've been titled, "Six Perfect Holiday Homes.... plus one." I crawled back to my house where the tour lady said nice things and I so wanted to believe her. But then she said those words I dreaded. She said people liked my place because it looked "lived-in." Ouch. I know what "lived-in" means. That's code for ... oh dear.

And that's when I got it. Holiday tours are about seeing homes better than yours, not as good as, and God forbid not "lived-in." Where historical open houses have wide floorboards and walk-in fireplaces that speak for themselves, the Christmas tour is a staged event, meant to bewitch and bedazzle, to show people you love this holiday and have the taste to display it to perfection. Grinches need not apply.

It's taken a year to get over that humbling experience, but a funny thing has happened. Instead of scrambling to excel at Christmas, I've decided to embrace my inner Scrooge. Instead of trying to emulate something I'm not, I focus on what I like about this holiday -- sharing it with family, John Lennon's "Happy Christmas," and cookies. Despite my family's initial horror, we now have a totally artificial (I prefer to call it modular) Christmas. I recently bought a fake tree and even a few fake poinsettias -- which I don't have to water in April. I intend to bring Christmas down each year, lay it out and plug it in. And from a distance (okay, a big distance), the stuff almost looks real. My husband and sons have survived. The planet still turns. And even better ... I like Christmas now.

I'll never be asked to do another Holiday tour and believe me, I understand. My husband summed it up best when I asked him hopefully that fateful day if they might give me another chance. He smiled at me and in his best David Niven voice answered, "Don't worry dear, you shan't be asked again."

Laurie Stone is an Easton resident. She has written for the Connecticut Post, County Kids Magazine, Trumbull Times and Easton Courier.