Christmas Hell

This is the part of the year where I post an article I wrote several years back on my experiences growing up at Christmas time. For those of you who have read it, I hope you enjoy it again and those who have not, I hope it gives you a little laughter in your day.

Christmas Hell

Christmas. The time of year to gather with loved ones in fellowship and
harmony; a time to set the table with the finest, perfectly cooked turkey, heads
bowed in thanks for nature’s bounty; a time to trim the tree, sing carols and
smile jovially at one another with warmth and love… unless you’re a member of
a normal family. If you were part of my family you might find yourself receiving
cow patties wrapped in brightly packaged boxes or find yourself gazing in wonder
at a tree suspended from the ceiling with fishing twine because your Dad,
though a great man, was too cheap to buy a tree stand.
Unique, quirky, surreal and obscenity-laden are a few ways in which many
describe the holidays. It is no secret with family, friends or neighbors who have
heard the obscenities streaming from our house around this time, that my dad,
a Vietnam vet who is still unhappy with the government, is not necessarily a
lover of the Yule Tide season, either. To top it off, he looks like Santa Clause
and has been repeatedly offered to play old Saint Nick at stores and Christmas
parties. He tries his best and puts forth a good foot for my mother but in the end,
strings of holiday curses flow from his bearded lips and when they do, it usually
has to do with “The Tree.”
On the surface the procedure seems simple: procure a tree and successfully
set it up. But, in practice as most people know, the outcome can sometimes
be wildly different. Over the last 27 Christmases with my family, I have learned
a few things about the Christmas tree. Whatever could go wrong, has. So here
are a few tips I’d like to share to maybe enhance your holiday and, most importantly,
keep you from losing your cool (even though it is entirely appropriate to
do so).
For most people, the hunt for a Christmas tree begins just after the
Thanksgiving decorations come down and the initial and most important decision
most families grapple with is where to buy the tree. Sure there are Wal-
Marts and K-marts in every town but why miss out on the good old fashioned
masochistic fun of going to a tree farm? They’ll even let you cut down your own
tree. What a bargain. When you leave your back hurts and you’re tired but at
least you have a tree.
Whenever you decide to go, I don’t suggest you allow your kids to skip
school to go tree hunting. It seems like a great idea and a very jolly way to
spend time together, however most schoolteachers tend to disagree. When we
were younger, my mom woke us at the crack of dawn on a school day and
announced that we were going to buy a tree. She’d insisted it was fine so long
as we explained ourselves to our teachers once we arrived late. Yeah, right.
Needless to say, when we finally made it to school after the great tree hunt the
teachers didn’t believe our excuses. I remember Mrs. Barstow, my second
grade teacher, staring at me, the mole on her upper lip like a third eye, and that
uncomfortable moment when I was sure she thought I was lying. Somehow,
though, she and my brothers’ teachers were able to find the charity in their cold,
black hearts to not put us in detention. Your kids’ teachers may not be so kind.
Before heading out to the tree farm be sure to bring your own saw.
Besides making the process go faster, your saw will undoubtedly be better suited
for the job than the antique the tree farm will provide.
One morning, we piled into our Ford Escort and looked forward to a family
Christmas memory at the tree farm that would last a lifetime. My mother
insisted on finding the perfect tree and asked my father his opinion on each
one. My father didn’t care– and voiced it more than once– but he eventually
on one out of necessity and boredom. Here is where bringing
your own saw comes in handy.
We borrowed one from the old guy who ran the place,
a rusty number, missing teeth that hadn’t been used for
years (the saw, not the old guy). At this point my brothers
and I were playing “hide and seek” in the trees, the snow
falling serenely, and wait… is that cussing I hear? My father
had heaved himself under a Scotch pine and was spouting
off one obscenity after another while my mom scolded him
under her breath. My father is not a small man either so
heaving himself under the tree was truly a show of love for
my mother and a bit of a contortion act. After a couple
hours of this spectacle the tree finally came down. The
moral: bring your own saw.
You see the tree outside in all its majesty and glory.
It doesn’t look so big, in fact it seems to be the perfect size.
You take a walk around it, look it up and down, maybe test
the branches by pulling on one or two to see how many needles fall off. Now
before you make a wild decision, at this point I’m going to suggest that prior to
procuring your tree, you have measured the area in your home where you hope
to display it. Get the height, width and depth of the area and write it down on a
piece of paper and take it with you. Take a measuring tape to the tree farm, too.
In fact measure everything twice, just to be sure. You know the old saying:
measure twice, cut once.
Once, my family arrived home from the tree farm with a tree and unloaded
it onto the front porch. Since we had skipped class to cut it down, we were then
taken to school. After school we came home and made a beeline for the den
where our treasure would be set up and ready to decorate. We immediately
noticed that it was… a bit large. In fact, it took up the entire den. For that entire
Christmas season if one wanted to sit by the tree you had to sit in the next room.
I am not sure how we managed to put all our ornaments or even the angel on
top but we did. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure how my dad managed to get the
thing in an upright position. My mom would not admit to the trees enormity saying,
“Oh it’s not too big, it’s just full.”
Christmas tree trimming parties. Everyone has had one or been to one.
Cookies are baked and wassail or hot cocoa abounds. It is a popular thing to
do with children. They like getting together, chatting, flirting and throwing tinsel
at each other. It’s a fun and festive way to begin the holiday. But before sending
your child to or hosting a trimming party of your own, please answer this one
simple question: can you or the host effectively put up a tree without getting
frustrated and throwing it out on the lawn?
One year my folks hosted a tree trimming party for my brother’s church
youth group. After many failed attempts trying to put the tree up, there went my
dad, tree crooked rather expertly under his arm, marching in a determined fashion
out of the den, through the house to the back door where he pitched the tree
into the back yard. He then wheeled around and announced to my mom that if
she, “wants a fucking tree there it is, go get it.” Most of the kids in the youth
group giggled while some stared in shock at the use of the “F” word at a family
church function. I am not sure who ventured out and recovered the tree and
then put it up but I am relatively sure it was not my dad.
Yeah, having a real tree is nice and it has an appealing aroma and gets
you in the holiday spirit, but sometimes you have to ask yourself if you have
more of an artificial tree personality. If your Christmases have been anything
like mine, full of toothless saws and trees catapulted out of doors, then I would
kindly suggest that you spend your money on a fake tree. They don’t get pine
needles all over your floor, are relatively easy to set up and they last longer
than a month. Plus, in the long run your saving money.
Years have passed and now even my folks have an artificial tree that my
mom puts up and takes down by herself while my dad smokes his pipe in the
lazy boy, drinks his creamed coffee, continues to give my mom hell and smiles
all the while. Our Christmases have always been a little out of the ordinary, at
least if you believe the commercials are the standard of a true family. We have
indeed nailed our tree to the floor and hung it from the ceiling. As a child seeing
the suspended tree glistening with tinsel and bulbs was magical and perplexing
because no one else I knew had a floating Christmas tree. My mother
one year decided to bake all her ornaments only to have a little gray field
mouse my dad had befriended eat them. During the evenings they would sit
together companionably, the mouse on its branch quietly nibbling away at the
star shaped cookie and my dad in his easy chair smoking a pipe, his blue eyes
twinkling from behind his glasses.
No family is perfect. We all celebrate life and holidays in our own different
ways and all have quirks that are often border on the bizarre. Some might
like to keep their family eccentricities private. Me, I write and I like a good story
so I have exposed my family stories in hope that it makes everyone feel a bit
more at ease with the “abby normal” in their own holiday madness.
I now have my own family and we have our own set of crazy traditions
to fulfill. Back at the folks house the argument has changed from “The Tree” to
“When are going to take all these damn Christmas decorations down Brenda?!
For crying out loud it’s January!”
It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed much.


3 thoughts on “Christmas Hell

  1. LOVE IT! We totally went artificial last year. The damn tree spins, it’s bad ass 🙂 I can’t stand Mr T’s grandma. The woman drives me up the wall and swears that women should be proper, polite and serve their men. Screw that shit! I drop the F word every chance I get when she comes over just so I can see her cringe. hahahaha. My mother-in-law can’t stand her either so it’s become fun for us to mess with her.

    Oh how I love my mother-in-law!

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