When I was growing up, we were a family that chose a Christmas tree from a stand sponsored by a good cause or at a local farm, also a good cause to be supported. Then, the first year I was married, my tall husband dragged an even taller tree home to our apartment, maneuvering it up the narrow stairwell and into our living room. That year, flush with the maximum of heart, I made every one of the red ornaments that hung on it and then wrapped each separately and boxed them all for another year.
That year, alas, never came—for the ornaments, that is. By our second Christmas, we were living abroad in Ireland and lean of pocket, just as the national economy there was, so there was no tree. Instead, we walked over to the American embassy one cold winter’s night (no snow, not in Dublin) and looked through the windows at the huge, beautifully decorated tree in the foyer. “Next year …, we said.
A year’s planned sojourn, working and studying, turned into a nearly 12-year, rich experience, several spent in Dublin and even more in London, with small trees and then somewhat bigger ones dragged along capital streets to our home in the ensuing years. The decorations were less vivid but still personal, especially the “officer of the guard” articulated paper figure my son, then 2 or 3, made in pre-school and still gets walked out for the holidays. We celebrated by exchanging flowering cyclamen plants and a toast with closest friends—as well as enjoyed great meals made all the better for the company.
Back stateside, we wanted a “real tree”—big, fragrant and bushy—and year after year, our family of four would go out and tag one early in the season, if we remembered, until a superbly choice tree became the gift my brother gave to us—delivered right to our doorstep.
But all those red ornaments were gone forever, lost in the move or, as I would like to think, now home on someone else’s tree.
For the last few years, now that our son and daughter are married and throw themselves into their own Christmas tree experiences, my husband has said, “Let’s not … .” And so we haven’t.
But I’ve got enough memories to cherish for a lifetime: the year he and one of his brothers “trimmed” the base of excess branches and then my father-in-law drilled holes to reinsert them in the trunk so the tree would have a pleasing, balanced shape; the year the tree was so big that it dominated the dining room but was so difficult to keep erect, let alone straight, that they wrapped fish line around the top branches and tacked the ends to the sides of the room; and the year the tree toppled on top of us (daughter and I) as we were holding it so the bottom could be stabilized in the base.
No wonder my husband continues to say each year, “Let’s not …”—unless, of course, he is remembering that I always wanted the tree to be left up until, well, Valentine’s Day, if still holding its needles, when he wanted it down right after New Year’s.
I’m still remembering what it was like to lie on the couch in a dark room with only the Christmas tree lights for illumination.