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.
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?”
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.”
“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.
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.”