A Tree-mendous Christmas (#272)

As children, my younger sister and I used to lie under our Christmas trees. We had minimal Christmas decorations, and no outdoor lights, but we loved our small trees. Not only were those colored strings of light magical on their own, they were also a visible reminder that parties, presents, and the North Polar Bear were coming.

When I got my first apartment, I got a tree. It went…poorly. Not only did my roommate JM have allergies (sorry, JM!), but we had cats. 5 pound Bat Cat raced delightedly up and down the tree, ornaments flying in her wake. At 25 pounds, Shamu Cat was incapable or climbing any tree. Instead, he pulled branches down and sat on them, almost as if telling Bat Cat, “See? I am also in the tree!”

The listing tree didn’t last till Christmas.

I didn’t get another tree until I married my Chinese-American husband. After we bought a house with a bow window that was perfect for showing off a tree, I insisted on a living one. We planted it in our yard after the holiday, and did the same thing the following year. After we ran out of space, we got cut Christmas trees.

I say “we,” but I mean “me.” Andy, who grew up without much holiday fanfare, was ambivalent about everything from pumpkins to Christmas trees. He didn’t love walking into a house that smelled of pine the way I did. He definitely didn’t love fixing and hanging the lights. He sighed over the hundred-dollar price tag of the tree (though he was smart enough not to complain aloud). He grumbled  repeatedly over the garage storage space that my four boxes of Christmas ornaments occupied, calling them “excessive.”

Until the year I was 9 months pregnant and we spent Christmas with my father and Wife #3. Their house dripped Christmas lights. Animatronic deer, swirling candles, and giant Santas littered the lawn.

“Wow,” said Andy as we drove up. “How long did it take to hang all those lights?!”

“Dad starts the day after Thanksgiving,” I explained. “It takes about a week to do the exterior alone, I think.”

“Was your house like this growing up?!”

I snorted. “Are you kidding? We had a single candle in each window. Anything else was considered tacky. All this is because of Wife #3. She’s a Christmas Junkie. Wait till you see the inside.”

Dad took us on a half-proud, half-rueful tour through:

10 Different Santas
9 Victorian carolers,
8 Christmas wreaths
7 Crystal trees
6 Pet stockings,
5 Goooolden horns
4 Light-up garlands
3 Nativity scenes
2 Christmas trees
And I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of things.

Santas Galore

Andy finally asked Dad, “Where do you put all this…stuff the rest of the year?!”

Somewhat shamefaced, Dad admitted, “I rent a storage unit.”

I asked, “And how many boxes of Christmas stuff do you have?”

“About sixty.”

I elbowed Andy and said, “Ha! My six boxes of Christmas decorations don’t seem so ‘excessive’ now, do they?!”

Dad said, “My wife really likes stuff. And she loves Christmas stuff. And it makes her happy, so…” He raised his hands in hapless surrender.

I elbowed Andy again. “Maybe you could learn something from my dad.”

Andy did not. Instead, he rejoiced the following year when I mournfully decided against a Christmas tree.

“There’s no point,” I explained. “I’ll spend all day telling Baby D not to yank down all the ornaments. He won’t be able to resist and if we’re not careful, the whole thing will come down.”

“I’m sorry, honey,” Andy lied.

“No, you’re not. You never liked the Christmas tree.”

“They’re so expensive. We’ve saved a hundred bucks.”

I glared.

“It’s not like we’re going to be here,” Andy reminded me. “We’re going to your dad’s. And he always has TWO Christmas trees. You’ll get to enjoy those.”

“Oh, God. That’s right,” I groaned.

“You seem surprisingly unexcited.”

“Honey. Don’t you get it? We’re going to spend the entire time trying to keep Baby D from destroying Wife #3’s entire Christmas collection.”


I called Dad and suggested that maybe the nicest, most fragile decorations remain in storage. Dad pooh-poohed my worries, telling me how excited his wife was to finally have a grandchild with them at Christmas.

I fretted all the way to Utah. Dad had never responded well to the chaos and breakage that came with his six children. Was I setting us up for a miserable Christmas?

Not in my son’s opinion. Baby D was entranced by Granddad’s Christmas Light Extravaganza. He pet the electronic deer and clapped over the exterior lights (which had been upgraded and now played off-key carols). He learned how to push buttons and make the Victorian carolers sing. Constantly.

Baby D sees the tree. And screams. And screams.

And the first time he approached the upstairs Christmas tree? His jaw dropped. He let out a scream of delight before staring at it in wonder for 20 seconds.

“Do you see that, honey?” I whispered as I snapped a picture. “He loves it. I have an ally. Christmas trees forever more!”

Gloating is always a tactical error. Baby D pounced as I spoke. Before I reached him, an ornament was off the tree and in pieces on the floor.

“Ahh! No touchy,” I explained to Baby D. “Only looking.”

Baby D ran off to make the carolers sing, Andy right behind him, as I apologized to Dad.

Dad got a broom and cleaned up with surprising nonchalance. “Don’t worry about it. My wife has so many ornaments, we can’t even fit them on two trees. She will never even notice. And if she does, well, we’ve got plenty more.”

“We’ll try and keep a better eye on him,” I promised. “But honestly, there’s so much Christmas stuff, I just know he’s going to break a lot more of it.”

Dad looked at me with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and said, “Oh, sweetheart.

I’m counting on it.”

Baby D, looking angelic on Christmas morning. In reality? Decorations: 0, Baby D: 6

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

17 thoughts on “A Tree-mendous Christmas (#272)”

  1. It’s interesting how your Dad changed over the years. Since I don’t have kids I always worried with the cats. Some climb it and some don’t. I had one that took a dump in my mom’s crinkly paper mountains on the display under the tree. She wasn’t pleased. Baby D may be your dad’s fav grandchild depending on how many he broke!

    1. OMG, my dad is so different — Christmas decorations, 7 rescue animals including 3 cats! He’s much nicer than he used to be, although I think he has flashbacks when my brother visits with his horde of children.

  2. Happy belated Christmas and happy holidays! May I ask what is your definition of “our house”? Both paid 50/50 for the house or even though he paid fully but I still own half of it just because I’m legally married to him?

    Also, were you ever resentful of your dad as he was more generous to his other wives than your siblings and deceased mom? Have you ever told him in his face that he should have married later in life when he is more matured and financially stable? Thanks!

    1. Actually, my dad would be the first to admit that he should have married later. He’s pretty candid about his mistakes, and he doesn’t watch Fox News, which makes him much easier to deal with than most of my friends’ parents. Of course we were resentful, but people are who they are. You can’t change them. You can only control your side of the interaction. (Sometimes that means completely cutting off toxic parents. I have friends who’ve done that and I support them.)

      Well, legally in California, both of us own our house. It’s in both our names, and the state doesn’t care who paid what part or any part. These laws evolved after so many married women who didn’t work outside the home were utterly screwed when everything was in their husband’s name and the couple divorced. I read an article about how this is happening now in China and it makes me furious.

      1. Thanks for the Fox News tip. I shall prevent my parents from watching it. Yes, you are right about the complicated law in China. Within the past 5 years or so, a new law was passed stating that in the event of a divorce, both party can claim properties purchased in China even before marriage. This is also a reason some capable young Chinese women are desperate to migrate out of the country lest they want to get leeched off their fortune. I think the law was initially meant to curb Chinese citizens from owning too many properties which will lead to unreasonable price hike. Also, foreigners marrying Chinese citizens need to think twice as marriage certificates in China does not guarantee spousal employment visa. Will Andy still grumble about the Christmas ornaments even if they were purchased with your savings justifying that it could be put to better use such as investment, holiday, kid’s higher education, nursing home and so forth?

        1. Uh? Isn’t it the other way around, that property bought before marriage now only belongs to the partner that bought it? That’s why women were furious, because it’s customary that the man (or his family) provides the apartment for the newly wed couple.

  3. Wow, $100 for a real Christmas tree! I feel like I remember them being about $60 the last time I bought one (which was admittedly probably about 20 years ago). Of course there is no such thing as a real Christmas tree in South Africa. Only plastic.

  4. I’m really late catching up on these posts, but I hope you had a great holidays! Sounds like you did (with many Christmas decorations and skiing galore).

    Man, my husband is the exact same when it comes to Christmas. We bought a tree this year and I could tell it just hurt my husband inside (although he didn’t voice anything aloud). Christmas just aint a thing in a Chinese family.

    Awww I’m glad your dad was so easygoing! I think when parents get older they just don’t have it in them to get pissed off anymore (maybe?).

    And Baby D is sooooo cute.

    1. My siblings joke that we broke him. It only took 8 of us.

      But I think that it’s a lot easier to be easygoing when the kids are all grown up and out of the house 355 days out of the year–plus you no longer have to worry about feeding them all and figuring out how they are going to get through college.

      Not everyone can handle stress with grace. I know I don’t, hence just the one kid.

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