Yet again, it is that wonderfully festive time of year, when war breaks out at my house. When it comes time to put up the Christmas decorations, most people deck their halls with boughs of holly. At my house, my husband and I come close to decking each other.
My husband is Bosnian, which means that as a child, he was raised in a culturally Muslim household, but he is also non-religious. His problem is not with Christmas per se, but with the unholy amount of work involved in my decorating schemes. He has no fond childhood memories of twinkling tree lights glowing softly in a darkened living room or the near rapture of waking Christmas morning to a stocking full of tiny treasures.
I am also non-religious and our holiday celebrations are secular. This is not a religious bone of contention between us, but rather one of differing aesthetic values and individual levels of tolerance for hanging by one arm from a shaky gutter trying to staple gun Christmas lights without puncturing through the protective plastic coating and electrocuting yourself.
We have been married for 14 years, which means the “Battle of the Christmas Tree” has lasted more than a decade. I always win because Christmas decorating traditions are important to me, and eventually his lack of conviction either way causes him to cave to my demands, but that doesn’t mean that I am immune to the holiday spirit being violently sucked out of “tree day.”
There are real tree people and fake tree people, and no offense to the latter, but a fake tree will be erected in my house over my cold, lifeless body.
In previous years, my husband has tried to claim that it was “cruel” to kill a tree just to make it a holiday decoration. This was from a man who eats lambs, goats and anything else he can chase down in the barnyard. Literally, he grew up eating animals that grazed in his backyard and had names, so I didn’t buy his compassion for the tree and saw it for what it really was, an attempt to not have to put up one up…then, when that didn’t work, he tried the whole “green” argument by telling me how horrible it was for the planet to destroy all these trees. Seriously thinking he didn’t know any better, I told him that they were grown on farms for the sole purpose of being Christmas Trees. I wasn’t depopulating a forest, for God’s sake.
Once, I even showed him an article that said artificial trees were harder on the environment. At least my tree could be recycled and would never claim valuable space in a landfill, but these reasonable talking points did nothing to persuade him to love a real Christmas tree. He was sticking to his guns, as if I didn’t know that it was really because of the amount of work involved in getting a tree home and in the stand.
But you know, I wasn’t asking him to lumberjack one out of a dark and dangerous forest. There were no tools or physical exertion involved; I was simply asking him to drive to Home Depot, where there is a well-lit parking lot and a sales associate who trims the trunk, wraps it in netting and helps you load it on top of the car.
The first skirmish with casualties was in 2011. My daughter was 6-years-old.
The installation of the Christmas tree that year was particularly difficult. The tree, before it was decorated, fell twice. The third time, it was fully loaded. We collect Christmas ornaments on our travels. The blown glass gondolier from Venice will not be easy to replace. And my clay frog from Mexico is now missing a leg.
Each time the beast fell, gallons of water flowed over our hardwood floors, which we soaked up with giant bath towels. We finally had to lay the tree down and saw off so many lower branches that the tree now looked like the squirrel equivalent of road-kill.
Swear words, in two languages, were hurled at the tree and at each other. At one point, I apologized to our daughter sitting quietly on the couch, watching this, and having her childhood memories of Christmas destroyed.
I sat down with her afterwards and calmly explained that this was not normal. That for most families, music was playing, hot chocolate was being served and cinnamon was bubbling on the stove. The decorating of the tree was supposed to be a happy, family event that was enjoyed by all.
As my husband tightened the screws in the stand one final time, in an effort to finally stabilize the tree, now barren of its lower limbs, the noise he was making was somewhere between the mewing of a kitten and the whimpering of a little girl.
But, as we stood back to admire our handiwork, this time the tree held! It was up and it was beautiful. The house was fragrant with the scent of fir.
My husband very seriously stated that he refused to put up a tree ever again. A year passed, and by Christmas of 2012, and every year since, like childbirth, the pain of “tree day” has faded enough that I am able to con him into it yet again… though not as graciously as one would hope.
As Christmas 2015 approaches, I once again look forward to our loving family tradition of screaming swear words, hurling insults and threats, and admiring our beautiful tree by the light of the fire.
Update: A week ago, our tree went up. Two days later, after the branches had settled, we added the lights. It was the easiest installation ever! I thought that, somehow, a Christmas miracle had occurred, and our family was now going to be able to put this curse behind them. We added the ornaments. And the tree fell. I swept up the broken parts and put them in the little box where I keep the casualties from the last disaster.
Merry Freaking Christmas to all and to all a Goodnight!
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