My Christmas tree is not a family affair. It used to be when kids, pets (even hamsters and fish) filled the house, but the empty nest arrived, so did the anal graphic designer mom. Even my poor husband, who once upon a time gamely offered to assist, gave up. He realized there was a light stringing game plan that didn’t include haphazard laying on of strands. I suspect, however, he became more than happy to volunteer help from the safe distance of the couch, contentedly watching Antiques Roadshow. And I’d bet real money that he counted on his finicky wife not taking him up on his offers to help.
Back in the day, when little kids reigned in my house, when gingerbread houses were built, advent calendars were opened and elves, Santas and reindeer abounded, my tree might have been described as eclectically homey. I was less concerned about matchy-matchy and more interested in making sure the dog didn’t swipe candy canes off bottom branches. When a cat replaced the dog, wire securely anchored the tree to the wall so our artistic greenery didn’t crash in the furry alpine climber’s race to the top.
The winter I awaited my last baby was a long, freezing one, complete with a blizzard that snowed us in. My girlfriend and I, two very pregnant chicks, decided to keep our already busy selves occupied with sewing and stuffing pre-patterned patchwork ornaments. At the time, they seemed like puffy masterpieces, maybe even ‘shabby chic’. Now they only qualify as shabby. The hardy few that survived all the years since my baby became a parent herself, earned their places on discreet bottom tree branches of my tree, along with two worse-for-wear drummer boys from my childhood tree. Many ornaments have retired, not so much from age discrimination but an inability to assimilate cosmetically. In other words, they are the plaid bellbottoms of ornaments.
Ornaments with aching sentiment are a completely different story. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, the more they are loved, the more cherished they’ve become. My granddaughter, who will be married next year, made an oversized padded and lace ruffled heart ornament in kindergarten, complete with sewn little charms. Okay, now it has drifted toward the back of the tree, it will always be there and always treasured. A photo of each child and grand, in funky little frames, dot the branches, as well as their grandpa, who is and always will be, front and center. Next to his framed picture, hangs a proud silver knight, symbolic of my guy’s crazy collection. The first Christmas Eve without him, the string of lights beneath those ornaments began to blink. Not all the strings of lights, not even a few rows – just this one section. The following morning, the lights stared me down unblinkingly. If that wasn’t a mischievous sign from beyond, I don’t know what is.
I never thought it was a bad little tree. . . maybe it just needs a little love. Linus
My tree trimming expertise has been refined over the years – thank goodness! There was the year, in my enthusiasm for a real down-home, old-fashioned tree complete with paper chains; the kids and I strung popcorn and cranberries. Well, I did most of the stringing, since needles and little fingers don’t play well together, but they were excited to see those strings grow – and grow. So far, so good, until I had the brilliant idea to preserve the hard labored strings at the end of the season. Thinking spray shellac would do the job, I carefully packed the now varnished berries and popcorn strings under the crawl space. The surprise was on me the next year, when I pulled out the decorations. Unwrapping the popcorn strings, I found only string. The erstwhile popcorn had become winter food for what apparently must have been fattened up mice, if crumbs everywhere were an indication. The cranberries on the other hand survived, though shrunken and dried. They were perfect for salad, not so much for decor. Happily, those kooky garlands have become holiday lore, which never cease to amuse.
Ah, those days when Santa was king and half bitten carrots for reindeer joined cookie crumbs and cocoa on Christmas Eve. My starter tree was topped by an angel from the discount store whose hair I painted red (doesn’t everyone?) just like my first baby girl. The angel still holds court on top of that red-haired daughter’s tree, now part of her own Christmas traditions. And tradition is everything. One of ours was yearly ornaments du jour my kids received, signifying their interests were at the time. Soccer balls, Trolls, a sneaker, piano keyboard, Tigger, a guitar, a karate kid. Those erstwhile ornaments nestled on sagging branches, and as each kid grew and flew, sentiment went along for the ride, eventually hanging on trees in their own nests.
My Tannenbaum, along with the rest of my house, has gone ‘coastal’. Sailboats and starfish found their way to my tree, along with treasured oldies but definitely goodies. Annual handmade signs of love from a couple who’ve been dear friends longer than I can remember, will always perch on the boughs. An ornament with my son’s 5th grade picture glued in center is bedazzled with as many sequins as his small fingers could glue on. Sprinkled on the brave tree are symbols of places I’ve been – a tiny lobster trap, a Pinocchio from our honeymoon in Florence, rowboats from my precious Cape Cod and the cruise ship we spent, what would be our last vacation aboard.
Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall. Larry Wilde
Two months after my man died, Christmas still held court, just in another spot in the room. My tree was now two foot smaller than the towering 9 footer the living room’s cathedral ceiling neatly accommodated. In its new home, it still sparkled from its white lights — and eyes full of tears. The family voted to keep the tree in its new spot and last year I replaced the fragrant greenie with a darn beautiful artificial, deciding it would save trips to nurseries where families gathered to pick out the perfect tree. It also allowed me to put that sucker up when I felt like it, to say nothing of needles underfoot.
Despite the game of Twister I played with the canvas bags the tree went to sleep in last year, I’m pretty happy with the new one. Like so many things in the aftermath of losing your love, I have adjusted, redefined and found new paths without losing the old. I’ve tried not to get my ‘tinsel in a tangle’ because it’s possible to keep the heart of what makes things beautiful while adding as you grow in new directions. DIY, even on a tree, is pretty much like life. There’s no way, even with a loving ‘village’, to go forward, learn, or grow except to ‘do it yourself’.