Monday, December 10, 2012

O Christmas Tree.

Our Christmas tree is now complete. I think it’s perfect. It embodies elements of C’s and my respective childhood Christmas trees, but aspects of it evoke just the two of us together.

It’s decorated with ornaments that C’s mother has given him over the years, along with several that we’ve picked up in our travels together, lots of traditional glass balls, a set of handmade glass birds and such that my parents gave me, a few cut-paper snowflakes and origami birds that I made last year. It’s a real tree, which C’s family always had growing up. We had a real one when I was very young, but an artificial one most of my childhood. It was a good fake and we loved it,  and the shape of the tree C and I picked out this year recalls the shape of that tree.

This is from when we used to get
a real tree. (Click on the pictures
to make them bigger.)
After struggling for years to figure out how to do the winter holidays, I’ve relaxed completely into an old-fashioned celebration of Christmas. All I had to do was remember how Christmas was, how it felt, what we did, before it became so polluted in my mind with all the fundamentalist culture war stupidity, the shrill onslaught of ads and catalogs and buying stuff that’s just going to end up in a landfill, and the bitterness and tension of everyone’s families growing and changing. Back when it was just about Mom’s cookies, and Grandma Lenore coming to visit from Minnesota, and exchanging gifts, and pickled herring on Christmas Eve, and being at home with people I love.

It seems to me that when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, pre-Reagan majority, pre-Jerry Falwell and the rest, people could celebrate Christmas with varying degrees of religiosity or none at all and not be at each other’s throats. My family was not religious. Christmas was mostly secular. We did have a small ceramic crèche that we set up every year. To me, it represented the story that Christmas was based on. I didn’t give much thought to whether it was literally true or not, let alone consider the notion that whether people believed it or not implied something important about their goodness and worth.

That's the fake one. Not a very
good pic of the tree. But those pants!
I took a sick day today. I left work Friday with a scratchy throat and headache which turned into a nasty chest cold by Saturday morning. The way it all started in my chest like that made me fear that this was going to be one of those winter colds that linger for weeks, but I sucked on zinc lozenges all weekend and I felt a little better this morning. Maybe it’ll pass quickly. Still, I’m coughing a lot and my head hurts, so I decided to stay home and rest. We have a busy few weeks coming up, and I don’t want to be sick for Christmas.

We had Saturday tickets to Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway, which we bought months ago, unaware that it was opening night, and I had to let C find a friend to go with him because I felt miserable and knew that if I went I’d cough through the whole thing.  C came home a little disappointed in the production, which alleviated my disappointment somewhat. It also helped that on Friday, we saw The Great God Pan (a new play by Amy Herzog who wrote my favorite play last year, 4,000 Miles) at Playwright’s Horizons, and it was great.

On the way out the door this morning, C said, “You’re going to finish the tinsel today, right?”

We’d done the rest together last weekend, the lights, the ornaments, but we didn’t have tinsel yet. C bought some on his way home from work one day last week. While he was at the theater Saturday night, I tried to put it on the tree, but I ran out of energy after one package. It didn’t look right, I didn’t feel good, I stopped. Too much pressure.

Both of us grew up with tinsel-Nazis. C tells me the rule in his house was one strand per branch. My dad’s rule was a little more abstract, something about making them look like actual icicles. There could be more than one strand, but they had to hang completely free. I don’t think my dad even let my mother near the tinsel, let alone kids.

My dad's childhood tree.
Between the risk of expensive, fragile, and often irreplaceable objects being smashed by small clumsy people (and the hazards of the attendant shards of glass) and the aesthetic demands on an object fraught with the memories of everything good and bad about Christmases in the past and present and some aspirational future -- not to mention expected to be pleasing to look at for a month -- decorating the Christmas tree was not a job for children.

I respected that, I think. I know I agreed with my parents that we had the most beautiful tree of all. No spray-painted macaroni kindergarten bullshit on our tree. It evolved slightly over the years, but at its apogee the lights were tiny and all blue, the ornaments were glass balls only, and the icicles were clear glass. (As I remember, when they stopped making tinsel out of actual metal foil and started using Mylar, my parents in protest stopped using tinsel. But it may be that those two events were unrelated and I’ve fabricated drama out of my past. It’s been known to happen.)

Those glimpses of an adult Christmas are more powerful in my memory than any of the kids’ stuff, which was always a little ugly to me, I think even then. If there was anything creepier than that strange scene in the barn with the talking animals and everyone frozen and staring at an immobile newborn for DAYS ON END, it was enslaved elves, an extortion list, and the drooling fat man sliding down the chimney in the middle of the night.

See those slippers? I loved them. My mother
made them with two sticks and a ball of yarn.
My mother is awesome.
It’s still a puzzle to me why parents get such a kick out of working their kids up into a frenzy of anticipation so intense they cry and pee their pants. Everyone justifies it saying that they want their kids to “experience the magic.” I suspect it’s really about the thrill of pulling off a practical joke on a bunch of disruptive, demanding little people who’ve thrown their parents’ lives into unimaginable chaos. There’s nothing magical about discovering you’ve been lied to. For years. By everyone around you.

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