The Christmas tree. My most favorite thing of Christmas. So why the procrastination this year? Why did it take me until mid December to do the thing I often did right after the turkey carcass was discarded? Is it because of the transitional blanket this holiday is wrapped in? Is it because of the lethargy that has settled in? I saw a post of a friend with her two little boys going to the Christmas tree lot, picking the tree and then the fun and exasperation that comes from decorating with a two year old. It took me back to all those Christmases when my two sons were small and the wonder of Christmas and its rituals was still bright in their eyes. A sharp contrast it is to this year when I asked my 15 year old if he cared if I put up a fake tree. I thought for sure he would be appalled and drive us both illegally to that Christmas tree lot. I don’t care, he said. The apathy and lethargy clearly settled in his heart and mind. Fine, I say, we do not need a real tree. We do not need my most favorite symbol of this holiday and your childhoods. We can let it go this year, as we must with many other traditions gone, some through grief and some through growing.
I have a fake tree not growing in my attic I am reluctant to admit. I bought it 17 years ago when my older son was two. We shared our Christmases back then between my family in the Bronx and my in laws in Sacramento. Christmas 1999 was to be spent in New York and because of the new millennium New Year we were to spend a few weeks rather than a few days. We shared our home with our friend and house partner Andy still that year. He was not the paragon of “on the ballness” he is today, never losing keys or never meeting a door he liked to close. I decided on a fake tree that year, as I was afraid a real tree would combust and burn the house down while we were gone. I was sharing this story with my sister the other day who scratched her head and said, what did you think he was going to do, throw lit matches at it while you were gone? Well of course not I said, but if he forgot to water it I thought it would catch fire. Such is the thought process of the new mother. There are paranoid schizophrenics with more lucid and logic thoughts. Remember that new mothers are the only people on the planet to actually have seen an eye poked out by running with scissors in one’s hand. And so I brooded and brained for a few days before I summoned the fake tree from it’s dusty corner. It will be fine I reminded myself. It’s only five feet but on a table it will look much taller. I am sure it will be fine. Of course it has to be fine. What other choice do I have? My sons won’t go anymore to the Christmas tree lot. I have never gone alone to a Christmas tree lot since they were born. It will be fine, just like we will. Eventually. After all, we survived the first year of a fake tree in my youth. Or did we?
I was about 13 or 14 maybe. We always had a real tree as kids. O not some big, tall, full and beautifully decorated fir, but one of those ‘you can see through to the back wall’ kind of sparsely branched ones. My mother decided the time had come to get with the times and get a fake tree. It was all the rage back then. I had seen a few at various people’s homes. Many were those silver trees with the poles you could see and the branches stuck neatly into the hole on the pole. They were shiny and pretty for sure. I was sent by my mother to buy the tree. My best friend and I walked to the Macys in Parkchester in the Bronx, the only walking distance shopping district we had with department stores. You did not get a lift to pick up a Christmas tree by your parents back then. My mother didn’t drive. My father, well, we told him about the tree after it was up. I remember lugging this seven foot fake tree, one of us on each end of the box, and trudging home with it for a mile or two I guess. Some of us at home were excited about getting a fake tree; some of us were not. When a lot of people live in a house you tend to get a lot of differing opinions. And so I began the process of putting it up. Reading the directions would have slowed down said process. I began unraveling the green tape-like stuff that kept the branches attached to the pole. I think we got to about a foot or two up in the tree before we realized there were no holes to this pole. This new fangled model required you only to bend the branches down away from the pole. To our credit and with surgical precision, we managed to painstakingly reattach every branch. That tree lasted for many, many years. Back to the present from this digression.
Our five foot fake tree made its way down from the attic and into our living room and just as husband was about to begin bending the branches down to it’s not so full glory I shouted STOP! No, not because he was unraveling green tape-he is very mechanically adept and knew how to work the tree- but rather because it was just awful. Scrawny, not as tall as I thought, not as full or even close as I remembered. What passed muster for a new mom with pyromanic paranoia could no way pass muster after years of fabulous very real trees. Trust me, even Charlie Brown would have thrown this tree back. What to do? Well the only thing I can do at two in the afternoon by myself with tree trimming time turning thin. I went to the Christmas tree lot all by myself. Thankfully it didn’t take the hours it did on Christmas pasts or the five minutes it took on Christmas special. It took just the right amount of time for me to pick one out without the longing to see my little boys chasing each other amongst the trees setting in. Tree selection times in the past often mirrored and reflected the year gone by. Some took hours, crippled by sadness and indecision. As if the selection of a tree could right all the trials and tribulations that passed for life that year. The year my mother died in early December though stands as still the best Christmas tree ever. We got to the lot in mid December that year after being in New York for the funeral. We walked into the lot, my boys were nine and five at the time, and right before us was this spectacularly beautiful full and perfect tree. I kept walking around it in wonder and thinking it’s not possible to do this so quickly. And then a thought rang through so crisp and clear, thank you Mommy for this tree. I still call it Nonna Alda’s Christmas tree. Nonna is Grandma in Italian and Alda was my mother’s name. In and out in literally five minutes flat. And so this tree of ours this year shall also take its place in future memories. A tiny bridge was crossed it seems. A bit of cloud was lifted long enough for me to get some decorations down as well for the house besides the tree. The decorating of my house for Christmas only has always been such a ritual for me as well. I adore Christmas decorations. I created many of my decorations two decades ago. My themes of burgundy and gold for the dining/living room and silver and red for the family room have stood so well our test of time. I rarely deviated from the placement of each bead and bow and candle. Even years when I had a hard time remembering where certain things must go, my son or an old photograph would be there to remind me. Not this year. The lone trip to the lot gave me the courage and the fresh air to lighten the Christmas load as it were. I opened each box and chose what would come out this year and what would not. I liked the elimination of the hard line traditions. I liked the lifting of the sadness veil, which kept me from repeating rotes of Christmas past. I like the straddling of this New Year with one foot lifting its boot from the quicksand of the past and the other stepping carefully on the new mowed lawn of the future.
Our Christmas tree this year stands testimony to that transition. Yes, for all my son’s blusterous “I don’t care if we don’t get a real tree”, his joy at having a real one back is there, even if he chooses not to show me. Our mantel sans some time worn greenery and lights is pretty even still. There are bright, velvet and gold red bows here instead of there this year. There is a bit of darkness where there used to be lights, but that’s to be expected, I suppose. The bittersweet memories of Christmas past and a glimpse into Christmas future nearly hindered me from stepping into Christmas present this year. I am certainly glad I did though- for both my sons and me. Always treasure your Christmas pasts, peek in wonder at your Christmas futures, but give your complete heart, soul and attention to your Christmas presents. A happy and joy filled holiday to all and to 2016 a good night!
PostScript: Thank you to those who have been kind enough to read my internet writing this year. I truly appreciated it..
POST POSTSCRIPT: It’s May now and in case you are wondering, that 5 ft tree was given to an inner city Pop Warner football fundraising effort a few weeks ago. And this piece will be shared now by a lovely 17 year old with 124000 followers to his blog.. Extraordinary accomplishment I would say. And so it begins…. I hope.