“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
— Linus Van Pelt, A Charlie Brown Christmas
This is an accurate way to start any entry about my family’s history with Christmas trees. They’ve been short and fat; Griswold-family-Christmas-tree tall, leaving no room for the angel; crooked, despite all efforts to straighten them out; and in truly dire times, wound with twine and tacked into the mantel (in such a way, of course, that no one could ever tell that the TREE WAS BEING HELD UP BY TWINE).
This year will be my 11th Christmas in D.C., and I think I’ve had a tree for all but one. I can’t say that I’ve necessarily outgrown my heritage — my own trees have been turned to the corner to hide bare spots, tiny tabletop numbers that made Charlie Brown’s original tree look luxurious, and determined to leave more needles on the ground than on their branches. (To those who would recommend a fake tree, I say: yeah, right. Not an option. Keep moving.)
That’s all to say that the shape and quality of the trees have not mattered one bit. In reality, the trees are just the vehicles for the lights, the ornaments, and the traditions. Some families’ trees are beautiful: tall, symmetrical, and adorned with bows and lights that never burn out. Our trees: not so much. When I was little, our trees had garland, tinsel and blinking, chaser lights. (Some aesthetics — and the desire not to ruin vacuum cleaner belts — have won out since, and the tinsel and garland don’t make it to the tree anymore. Nor do the blinking lights. Most years, at least.)
Some of my friends’ parents gave them their childhood ornaments when they moved out. I can’t remember if I ever asked my mom for some of mine, but either way, I had to have known what the answer would be. Yeah, right. Not an option. Keep moving.
That’s because then and now, the tree that stands in my parents’ living room is a testament to our family’s history. My red satin ornament adorned with “Michele 1983” in silver glitter. The teddy bear ornament that Liz painted in kindergarten. The series of pictures of us with Santa — make that several different Santas — that helped Mike figure out who Santa really was. Ornaments bought as gifts — some beautiful, some cheesy, all sentimental. I’m not around to help put up the tree anymore, but every year when I go home, I stare at that tree for hours. (And then I usually laugh at Mike’s disappointment over figuring out the truth about Santa through a bunch of mismatched pictures.)
I’ve tried to keep the same tradition alive with our tree, now. The tree we put up today is small and far from perfect, but it has what matters. Ornaments I bought for 99 cents each during my first D.C. Christmas. Ornaments exchanged with Karen and Steph over many celebratory Christmas dinners. Lots of ornaments celebrating the Sox. Ornaments that remind me where we’ve been: a streetcar from New Orleans, a surfing Santa from Hawaii, an angel filled with pink Bermuda sand. And ornaments that detail our family’s evolution: the one from 2000, with Mom, Dad, me, Mike, Liz and Sandy; the one we got celebrating our wedding; and the one that lists me, B, and Clar.
And now that the tree is standing (twine-free), lit, and covered in ornaments, it means I can enjoy one of my most favorite Christmas traditions: come home from work, turn off room lights, turn on Christmas music, turn on tree. (Wine optional.) Sit and stare.
And now, having reread this post, I must sum it up in the words of the immortal Clark Griswold:
“Little full, lotta sap.”