I’m in the desert and it’s 107 outside, a climate enjoyable only to cactus and lizards.
With that said, I’m thinking of Christmas trees. I just finished watching Downton Abbey Season 5 and fell agog at the sight of the Christmas tree featured in the last episode. It’s the Christmas tree of Christmas trees, a dazzling, regal spectacle of fairytale lights and ornaments. It towers twenty or thirty feet tall at least.
Jerry and I have had differing opinions on Christmas trees over the years. He wants the kind of small fake tree you pull out of a box, stick on a table, and plug in. I prefer the whole ritual of riding our horse-driven sleigh out to the woods to chop one down. Although that could prove difficult here in the desert, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility while residing in Washington state. I envision the joy of finding our special tree, bringing it home, turning on the Christmas carols, slurping mugs of hot chocolate~and together Jerry and I hum Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and do a few high leg kicks in between our “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” at the tree’s beauty.
Jerry sees Christmas trees as a series of endless tasks: roping the tree to the car; untangling the lights; hanging ornaments he holds no nostalgia for or cares about. Not to mention the hassle he dreads of dragging out the boxes, stored on shelves in the garage containing all the ornaments saved over the years.
It’s not that Jerry doesn’t get enthused over special occasions. He happily took on the task of making every one of our son’s birthdays memorable. He baked and decorated our son’s birthday cakes in colorful frosting throughout his childhood. For our son’s first birthday cake, Jerry created a train complete with black frosting. “That’s the color of the engine,” he explained. The color-appropriate cake made its debut at a party held in our son’s honor. “Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho,” our next door neighbor chortled, “Jerry made the frosting out of motor oil.” Jerry didn’t find the remark amusing. That person did not get an invitation to our son’s second birthday party. For our son’s fourth birthday, Jerry prepared spaghetti in addition to baking a cake. At the small gathering of our son’s young friends, one boy blurted, “Mr. Wilson’s spaghetti tastes like barf.”
Of course, kids will say what they think. But Jerry decided the young man would not be attending any more of his dinners. “Barf! Hah!” he said indignantly.
The point being here, Jerry works very hard to make occasions special. However, he doesn’t believe a Christmas tree makes Christmas any more special. He’d just as soon place our gifts on the floor around the dining room table or better yet, around his metal lathe.
I tried to understand his position. He said Christmas trees cost money and he’d rather spend the money on presents. “Why buy a tree that’s already dead and you toss out after a few weeks?” he asked.
I thought we could settle our differing views with compromise. That’s the reason we tried living Christmas trees for a number of years. But the trees never looked much like a real Christmas tree and more like a decorated potted plant. We stopped buying living Christmas trees when we ran out of planting space in our front and backyard. We named all the trees by the gifts we received the year we had it. “There’s the RC 10 tree,” we’d say, referring to the the Christmas tree named after the remote control race car we gave our son that year. Or “There’s the Blackfoot” tree, the tree named after the remote control monster truck.
One year I bought a brand new 12-foot artificial tree at an after-Christmas sale. I paid $50 for it, although it had originally cost $350. But it had a missing part and thus, the huge discount. Jerry made a new part for it and the tree graced three or four of our Christmases. I had to use a ladder to decorate it and many boxes of ornaments to fill up the tree. It might have served as the permanent solution for Jerry and me. Unfortunately, I came upon the bright idea to store it in our son’s tree house, since he had long outgrown it and it sat empty. This, I reasoned, would give us more storage space in our closet. I did not consider the mice that would chew through the canvas storage bags and set up housekeeping in the tree’s branches. The tree hit the trash before the next Christmas arrived.
Now I’m in Arizona and Christmas here doesn’t come with snow or even cars sliding on black ice. Arizonans dress their cactus in Santa hats and string Christmas lights in their bikinis. If they rock around their Christmas tree, it’s with iced tea. I know the Santa hats keep the cactus warm and the bikinis keep people cool, but it’s all confusing.
Since I threw out the 12-foot tree, I’ve resorted to the Martha Stewart table top Christmas tree I bought years ago as an added decoration. Now it’s the only tree, so each Christmas I pull it out of a box, set it on a table and plug it in.
But somehow it doesn’t compel me to turn on the Christmas carols or do high legs kicks. I like the idea of a fun family, decorating-the-tree-tradition in celebrating the birth of Jesus. Plugging in a small “pre-lit and pre-decorated” tree doesn’t cut it.
But now, thanks to Downton Abbey, I realize that compromise is overrated. There are times in life when you need to sit your spouse down, ask if you can bring them anything, then smile and say, “You know that Martha Stewart Christmas tree we’ve had every Christmas for the past few years? You don’t need to get it out of the garage next Christmas.”
Then kick your leg high and say “Whoo!”