…..It’s time to deck the halls with boughs of holly. No fa…la….la….la… here. I’m not a bit jolly when it comes time to put up my decorations.
…. My Christmas tree and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. Throughout the years I have not so lovingly decorated the tree. Often I was too tired and too stressed when I took on the task often solo. I put the tree up Sunday. Too early? Nah, I can now relax and look forward to the most relaxing Christmas ever as “Home for Christmas” has takes on a whole new meaning for us all.
….I blame Hallmark movies for a lot of people thinking their Christmas is out-of-the-norm. Check out any movie and you’ll see the prototype for putting up that tree. It’s portrayed as a joyous occasion complete with Christmas music, home baked cookies, hot chocolate and snow……always snow, big white fluffy flakes. So when it’s not that way….when it’s just you…and a pile of ornaments with the hangers lying in the bottom of the Tupperware tub; a pre-lit tree where half the tree has no memory of ever being pre-lit; and a dreary, rainy day to match your mood, then you think it’s you. I submit that you are normal. It’s Hallmark that’s creating those unrealistic expectations and they need to stop it right now!
……My Christmas tree sits in the same place it sat in my house when I was a child. I have a skinny tree decorated with white lights, gold ribbon and magnolias. I’ve given all my special moment ornaments to each of my kids for their special moments. I am a realist when it comes to these moments. I had no expectations of a Hallmark Christmas tree experience from childhood when my mother told stories of putting the tree instead of me in a playpen to keep me from destroying it..
….. When I was six-years-old, we moved into the house where I live now. We always got a live, too tall and too fat tree that extended out into the living room and had to cut it off to make it clear our ceilings. Our initial Christmas family fight of the season was always about the type of pine. My mother wanted a short needled tree, thinking of those pesky needles on her floors and carpet. The rest of us wanted a long needled, thinking of how pretty and full it was. We won, thus setting the tone for her holiday mood right off the bat. The tree had big colored lights and icicles galore and was by today’s standard a mid-century abomination.
……Christmas tradition in our family was that the tree didn’t go up until the 23rd after my Dad came home from work. Then we would haul the tree to the living room and put it into the tree stand, Efforts to make it stand up straight were seldom successful and often my Dad resorted to questionable tactics. I think the tree has always stood in front of a window so he could take a trusty clothesline and tie it to the drapery rod. The many strands of lights would be strung out on the floor and the quest to find the one burnt out light that caused the entire strand to go out would begin. After many cranky hours we would observe our partially decorated tree and head to bed. Visions not of sugar plums, but of icicles blowing in the wind (the tree was near a heating vent) danced in our heads and we chuckled in our sleep because the real fun was soon to start.
……Noon on December 24 was the magical hour. That was the time my Dad would close his office early in deference to the holiday to come home to his family; make merry; and decorate the tree. He had to first make a few stops to deliver gifts to those with whom he did business throughout the year. At each stop he would “make merry” by having a drink at the business’s office party. And so, we waited. At about 2 p.m. when he hadn’t yet showed we would get the go ahead from Mom to put the bulbs on the tree. These were the days before cell phones so we had no idea when he would show and the clock was ticking not only on Santa’s arrival, but on our yearly Christmas party at 7 p.m.
…..When Dad arrived, we were ready with the greatest finishing touches of mid-century, middle America Christmas…..the icicles. Thousands of them. No, I’m not kidding there were thousands. No respectable tree could go without them back then. Why, the tree would be naked! Quite merry and a little tired from his gift distribution, Dad would sit himself down on the couch a good seven feet from the tree and do his part in the icicle distribution. While we placed those icicles on the tree diligently one by one, he would take a handful and toss them in the general direction of the tree. The icicles would land on the floor which would cause my Mom to bring out the old Electrolux sweeper. She would swooop in and suck those icicles up with the vacuum hose as quick as they hit the floor. The sound of those icicles being sucked up by the Electrolux drowned out any Christmas music from the stereo and the choice words my Mom was uttering. It was Christmas joy all the way around.
…..It’s a fond, if not perfect, family memory. At six p.m. we all would retire to our rooms, put on our Christmas finery, and emerge once again the perfect family to receive our guests. About, 5:45 before everyone else came down the stairs I would tiptoe down the stairs and observe the lit tree with icicles shimmering and the clothesline holding it steady, and think it was the most beautiful tree ever.
……A word on blended families. In later years, Mom and Dad would divorce and both remarry. We became a blended family. My kids never knew Mom and Dad together, but they grew up knowing Mom with her spouse, Johnny, and Dad with his spouse, Betty. They were also fortunate to know step-uncles Mike and Kirk and their spouses. A broken family? No, by my definition we were an expanded family. My kids had even more people in their life who loved them; they knew it; and they valued it.
…..Holidays were often a juggling act as my sister and I worked out a schedule for our parents’ visits to our respective homes that went awry when my somewhat cantankerous Mom decided she would have one more cup of coffee and a cigarette before she left my house on Christmas morning to go Marsha’s. I still remember the frantic phone calls, “I know Dad and Betty are on their way, Marsha. But, Mom won’t leave. Oh ****, she just lit another cigarette!” But, we kept our sense of humor and it is true, in the end love conquers all.
….Both spouses contributed to the grandkids’ memories. My sister’s five kids enjoyed last minute Christmas shopping treks with my Mom’s husband, Johnny when no one else would brave the crowds. My Dad’s wife, Betty, often was charged with making a little girls’ Christmas wish come true.
…..It was the Christmas five-year-old Shannon wanted a purple dress. No other color would do and thus began the epic search for a purple dress. Did I mention Dad worked all week and half-a-day on Saturday and back then malls were closed on Sundays? So, Betty went mall to mall to mall searching for a purple dress. It apparently wasn’t the in color that year. And, on Christmas morn lo and behold Shannon opened her presents to reveal not one, but three purple dresses. (Her favorite, a granny dress with a bonnet.) She was astonished as she rushed to her grandfather and said “Oh thank you, Papa.” Betty stayed silent as we all knew who had searched high and low to make Shannon’s Christmas dream come true.
…..A family is a family by merit of those who love and care for each other!