The Christmas tree. It’s the most sacred of all symbols of Christmas. Along with the nativity, the Christmas wreath, and Santa’s hat and a candy cane, the Evergreen tree is what makes Christmas Christmas. Otherwise, it’s just another day where you eat a lot and have really ridiculous expectations of your friends and family. The tree is the core of Christmas. It gives meaning, focus, and the right type of sentimentality to all things holiday.
I won’t go over my bizarre sense of childishness when it comes to my birthday and Christmas. Because, well, it would annoy you to hear that a grown woman still has little girl dreams about the surprises that await her on holidays. But I will say this: I’m the girl who thinks that maybe – just maybe – there’s a surprise party being planned for me and I’d better not let on that I know. Or when husband comes home with suspicious bag and box and shoves it in the closet, “Oh boy! He really got me something nice!” Only later on, long after Christmas, you find a state-of-the-art shaver in that bag that your husband uses (is it called manscaping?) behind locked bathroom doors.
So, it’s no surprise that the Christmas tree- getting it, decorating it and adoring it in all its beauty – is an important piece of my uber-childish holiday haze. I mean, it’s not just a tree. It’s your entire sense of faith, tradition, and happiness wrapped up in one sappy, sticky, prickly plant. What? You think that’s a lot of pressure?
This isn’t a story about how the tree is my lifeblood and how one Christmas the tree toppled over and so did my dreams of Christmas joy. It’s about the effort I make with my husband, each year, to make the Christmas tree acquisition and trimming both romantic and wistful. And, each year, I get a little bit closer to dealing with reality.
I did not marry someone wistful. And turns out, wistfulness is not his greatest quality. But, still, in relationships, you try to force that square peg in a round hole time after time after time…
I grew up with a single Mom. A tree being up in the house meant a lot of things. It meant Christmas was coming, there was probably enough money for presents (or good credit at the Bon Ton), and that my family was coming home. My brother was 18 years my senior and my sister 13 years older, so, for a kid who lived most of the year like an only child, the tree, the impending holiday, and the cookies my Mom made meant family, family, family (and, okay, well, presents).
So, at about December 1st each year, I am transformed into a little girl, helping her mother “trim” (put together) the artificial tree that meant Christmas (I am well aware of the irony here, but I am going to continue nonetheless). And the only problem about becoming this little girl is that I am married to a man. I am married to a man who had 6 siblings, lots of Christmas trees, and very few nostalgic memories of stringing popcorn and cranberries all Norman-Rockwell-style while Barbara Streisand’s Christmas record played in the background. Christmas just wasn’t a sentimental firework of an occasion for him.
And I have to get over that.
But each year, I have the most convenient case of Christmas amnesia. My expectations and my sense of “this will be the best tree yet!” go through the roof. And then I look over at my husband, nonplussed, semi-distracted, perfectly content with no special Christmas tree traditions to follow. And I am reminded of Christmas pasts during which I went temporarily insane when it came to the tree.
The Plywood floors Christmas: We were doing a lot of work on our house. I mean, we gutted it. There were no walls around the bathroom. No sheet rock in sight. But, I still thought that every house needed a tree at Christmas. I mean, we didn’t even have kids yet. I barked at Mike, like a crazy woman as he was lost in a game of Middle Earth on the computer, “I can’t believe I am decorating this ALL BY MYSELF!”
Mini-Tree: Fast forward two years later. I wanted a real tree, and so selected a “small” real tree for our tiny upstairs apartment. The tree looked less like a “small” and more like an “XXL” when we finally got it up there. Mike chopped off branches, and sawed down the trunk. All to make it fit. “I can’t believe you are RUINING MY TREE!”
Tree Trimming by Proxy: A friend lived downstairs from me for a while. She rented our lower apartment and loved the Christmas tree tradition as much as I. So, for the tree decorating night we would have a little party. I got to ignore my husband’s bored face and enjoy my perfect little tree. But then she moved to Florida and ruined everything.
Fake it: She left behind her artificial tree and I have used that the past two years. Why? Well, a) I can put it up whenever I want (don’t have to wait for someone to agree to go to the tree farm and wrestle with the saw) and b) no pine needles.
I know now that I will have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old this Christmas, I will want to go find a tree together as a family, take a gabillion pictures, drink hot chocolate, and spread Christmas cheer to all, but I will have to see if my husband will be in on that.
Because, really, it could end up with me, knee-deep in snow, hands covered in sap, sawing the crap out of a tree I had chosen, because he decided not to have an opinion. “I can’t believe you are making me cut down MY OWN TREE!”
So, as it turns out, the tree is not so sacred of a symbol for our family. It’s just something Mom gets overly sentimental, somewhat nostalgic, and yes, sometimes slightly crazy about. Christmas still happens without the perfect tree. Santa still comes. Husbands still get gag gifts for their wives (pink Snuggies). And someday, if we’re lucky, after braving several holidays à la Gallagher, my kids will say to someone, “My Mom loves having a nice Christmas tree. I mean she’s CRAZY about it. It’s just her thing.” And that, I think, will be enough.