My very first Christmas, or so I have been told because I can’t remember back THAT far, I was screeching and hollering one December afternoon after our Christmas tree had been put up. It seems that I was fascinated with a tree being inside and decided to scoot over closer in my baby walker to tug on the tinsel. What I inevitably ended up doing was pulling harder on a bough and pulled the tree on top of my 7-month-old self. I have cultivated a love/hate attitude about Christmas trees ever since. If you are one of the over achieving, holiday weirdos that started putting up their tree on Thanksgiving, stop it, you’re making us all look bad in front of the ghost of Christmas consumerism. I don’t know why I pretend like I’m torn over the artificial/real question every year because I know what the husband prefers, the real deal. And in a way, I do too. The first 18 years of adulthood, when I was grown up enough and had moved out and had to make my own Christmas decisions, I had artificial trees. Crammed in a box in the hallway, limbs in Riga mortis and fleeting tinsel still clinging pitifully from previous Christmas displays, my tree would get dragged out from its duct tape striped cardboard prison. It was the kind of tree that had each bough marked so that you would know where to insert the pin into the tree trunk, which looked suspiciously too much like a sad coat rack. My tree was marked with little paper tags that flittered away after about 2 years, never having painted the tips different colors like my mom did to make out which belonged where. I was stuck with having to sort them out by size and hoping that it somehow resembled a tree when I was done. After my second marriage and by this time Christmas was more important because, you know, kids, I happened to see on some shopping network a 9-foot tree on sale that I thought was great. My little “Christmas must be awesome for my children” heart was so set on that monstrosity, it was madness how I pined for that tree. See- see what I did there? Anyway-I explained to the frugal tyrant that I was married to why that tree was worth the close to $200 (this was 1999) we would need to spend. The tree was a smart purchase because it was supposed to be a onetime purchase, and lalala, and so on and so on. Somehow, he figured we would be aging grandparents still shuffling out that tree (HA!) 40 years from then and he relented. To be fair to ex-husband number 2, he was a conservator of nature, not just a cheap bastard, he truly believes to this very day in saving the earth and a couple of bucks is the most important meaning of Christmas. Yeah- don’t get me started on his funeral plans (he just wants his body to be dumped in a forest for it to decompose, adding richness and nutrients back into the soil. I’d hate to be the poor sucker that comes upon that vision on my hike!). That 9-foot tree almost made it to the ceiling of our new home, leaving just enough room for a star on top. I also realized as I assembled it every year (he never helped) that I needed to wear long sleeves to protect my arms from the scratchiness of the fake branches as I shoved Christmas lights deep into the tree, the way Martha Stewart showed me oh so many years ago. I bury the lights deep in the recesses of all my trees to give it the glow from within. I hate to see trees trussed up with garland and lights tightly wound around and around. They look like they’ve been taken hostage and are being held for ransom.
I feel bad about trees getting cut down in all their glory. A previous coworker of mine told me about working on a Christmas tree farm as a teen and he surprised me by saying they used to spray paint the trees green! I think he was pulling my leg. He said he used to go home every night covered in paint. I think he was huffing it. Finally, with husband 3.0, we have always bought a cut tree every year. But we always varied as to when in December we would get it because I dreaded having a dry, flammable tree in the house. I just couldn’t sleep well especially since we always passed out from the fatigue of parenting 3 teens and 2 tweens. And it COULD go up in flames because husband 3.0 LOVES Christmas and comes from the land of more is better (not Texas- some other place). My husband was the Clark Griswald of New Brunswick Lane. He had to have the most lights and Christmas decorations displayed in the three-block vicinity, so our tree would be no different. I did not know this about him until I saw him trying to string a Santa’s sleigh with reindeer from the oak tree to the roof of our house. I panicked and insisted he stop. We already had 3 blowup, animated displays and over 3000 lights in the front of the house alone. There was a herd of inanimate and animated reindeer loitering near a river of Christmas lights and a blowup of Santa’s Christmas train with an animated elf conductor chugging along the front yard. He agreed and decided to light the back yard and our daughter’s playhouse instead. This man that I married came with his own Christmas village. Another thing I didn’t know about him. It was more than a village, I would call it a quaint suburb filled with ice skaters, a fire house and two people kissing on a bridge over a frozen pond. So, with all this it should be understood that an artificial tree would never have its Made in China greenery dragged through our front door, no sir! Nothing but a real live tree that was minding its business before being cut down in the prime of its life would do for us! Naturally, we decorate it with the expensive but required Hallmark ornaments that mark the births of each child with ceramic glory, and the cheap stuff too. I’ve also had more than one Christmas tree in the house. One downstairs for all of us and another upstairs for the kids. The one upstairs featured the crazy dough ornaments that were painted in third grade along with the red and green paper chains that are required arts and crafts in every elementary class room. I used to tell my husband I wanted a purple and gold tree for my LSU team but he just looked at me like I was insane, because if we were going to celebrate ANY football team using Christmas ornaments, it would be his Seattle Seahawks. I can assure you that it will never come to pass.
As a kid, our artificial tree would stay up until Epiphany, when the Three Kings would FINALLY make it to see the newborn Christ child. That’s on January 8. It was an extremely poignant time for my mother, because that was the last hope for her to get a present when she was a child. Growing up, we had always been told the story of how very poor they were, and I’m glad we learned it as kids, so that we would appreciate the bounty of presents we received every year. Because when she was little, she had only gotten a present one time, on the day of the Three Kings. Christmas would come and go with a, “well let’s see if the Kings stop on the way here” comment and most of the time, the kings didn’t make it to Juarez. But when they did finally show up one year when she was 8, her dreams of a doll came true. Up until then she only had paper dolls, but that Christmas she had gotten a real doll that was almost 3 feet tall with brown hair and blue eyes. And my mom saved her, along with her paper dolls, saying that she was going to give them to her little girl someday. I was born first and that first Christmas when my young parents traveled back to Mexico she wanted to give me that doll. My Dad refused to let me have an old doll to take on the road. He wanted his daughter to have new toys, so the old doll that my mom played with well beyond the year’s most girls play with toys nowadays was left behind.
So, what is the right amount of time to keep a live tree? Can yours make it all the way to New Years? We’ve started buying our trees near December 12, another Mexican holiday-Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico. We are also finding that our trees can’t make it past the day after Christmas. I know so many people swear by aspirin and alcohol concoctions to add to the water, but I think those ingredients are best left for the New Year’s revelry. Selecting a Christmas tree takes talent as well. It’s rare to find a tree without some sort of blemish or small gaping hole where branches didn’t grow. Three years ago, our tree fell out of the back of my truck as we were driving home! I had asked the older boy teen to keep his eyes on it, but he had a lively twitter war going on his IPhone to notice that our tree had flown out of the truck bed two lights back. As a Honda Civic packed with boys was honking, signaling and waving to us, I turned to my oldest niece and said, “Look at those guys trying to flirt with you!” until she rolled down the window and they pointed back down the busy street to where our Douglas fir lay on the median, crying about the sad state it had been left in. I made the uturn back, horrified, I angrily made the snickering kids in the back seat SWEAR that they would not tell husband 3.0, he would have a coronary. Setting up the tree to hide the giant gouge in its side was a Christmas miracle, but hey, I had some fresh boughs to decorate the mantle with!
This Christmas, like every Christmas no matter what you tell yourself will be different, there will be tears of frustration or a moment where you will stare at an ornament, remembering the moment you first used it to decorate your tree. Someone will have good intentions and maybe cause another person to snap at them. It might be you, working so hard to make this Christmas beautiful like you always mean to for your family, that snaps a little. Let that moment pass and then hug and wipe the tears away. Old Christmas cards and bent ornament hooks will slide out of the boxes as you scavenger for the light up angel to test that it still changes colors like some acid trip. You will sit on the floor in frustration sorting lights that only light up half way, plugging and assembling the right pattern to secure that you will finish with a male end so that the lights can plug into the wall and that the female end of the lights finish on top to plug the light up star. Your pets will drink out of the tree water, your dog might even lift its leg on it (oh my gosh- he’ll get electrocuted!) and you’ll forget to add water to the evergreen at least twice. You’ve been there- you go through this every year. And you won’t stop or trade it in for a fancy tree that’s pre-lit (you traitor!) because these chores are what make Christmas the healing holiday it can be.
Have an amazingly torturous Holiday Season!