“Two trees may be too much to ask in one day,” my husband says, by way of indirect commentary on my mood. It’s ten pm, and we have just finished putting the last ornament on our tree, having spent the afternoon adorning my mother-in-law’s tree. She has a great tree, his mom. She has Hallmark ornaments back from the 1960s to current day, and adds 2 or 3 or 50 every year. She actually has to rotate ornaments in and out so that they all get hung up at some point. I suspect there are some I still have not seen.
I remember my first experience with The Tree. My husband and I had been dating for a year, and he had just proposed, on one knee, in the living room of our apartment, shaking and nervous, and offered me this life. I used to think he was afraid I was going to say no. Now I wonder if it wasn’t the other answer that was making him sweat.
That day, I spent most of the afternoon with my left hand strategically placed in my pocket, so that no one could tell whether or not I accepted his proposal. This is how I was, back then: my terms, no one else’s.
Her dining room table was covered with ornaments. Eskimos and pickles and Pokey Little Puppies and dear God, the Coca-Cola ornaments, thousands of them…I was given very specific instructions to return the bubble wrap from each ornament to the box so that each could be carefully stored at holiday end. I just stood there, blinking, and then I did as I was told, having a smug little chuckle to myself as I did so. Who DOES this? I thought. I could have my Christmas tree put up or dismantled in an hour.
So began the Christmas tradition I used to dread. Every year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had to spend the entire day unpacking ornaments, adding hooks, fluffing branches on the tree. Keeping dogs and toddlers from bringing the entire structure down in a crash. The Saturday after New Years, we all got together to break the whole thing down.
My children are quickly reaching the age where they don’t care about the tree. It used to be special for them. I remember lifting my daughter, holding one of her own ornaments in her tiny hands, to the place she wanted it hung. My son’s efficient habit of hanging fifteen ornaments on the same branch. Now, I’m lucky if they pull themselves away from the things that distract them long enough to help at all.
Now, I have a Hallmark collection of my own. I have my own frolicking Eskimos, Cinderella, Elsa, Scooby Doo, Nemo, Winnie the Pooh, several incarnations of Father Christmas – she buys our whole family new ones every year, too. I’ve actually grown to love most of them, but somehow the ornaments I had before I got married have disappeared. I had what I like to think of as an eclectic collection. Some were picked up when I travelled, others I got out of clearance bins in funny little boutiques – I had ugly purple resin angels with sharp metal wings, plastic apples with bows, cinnamon-scented pinecones…I haven’t seen them in years. Each year I had fewer, and I just noticed this year that I have none.
My theory that the Hallmark ornaments come to life at night and have satanic ritual ornament sex that spawns little unholy baby Hallmark ornaments, who then join their creators in turning on Those Who Do Not Belong and devouring them in a bloody orgy of purple resin and pinecone bits was not well received by…well, anyone.
More likely everything worked out the way it was supposed to. It’s not just my life anymore. And while it didn’t start out being my tradition, it has become part of my ritual. Carefully removing and returning each memory to it’s protective packaging. This all seems perfectly reasonable to me now. I just taught my son and my daughter how to do it.
So, once again I stand in awe of that which has become my tree.
I have been assimilated. But before I shut everything off for the night – what will the little demons do now, with nothing to feed on? – I find a branch with five little bushy green fingers. And I turn it towards the window and bend down all the fingers except one. Childish? Maybe.
But it’s my tree, now.