Rockin’ Around the Real Christmas Tree

Now that we’re almost empty nesters, my husband tentatively suggested that we destroy Christmas. We were cuddling in front of the TV when he whispered, “Do you think it’s time we invested in a fake tree?”


“But a real tree stresses you out each year.”

“That’s not stress, it’s the Christmas spirit,” I replied.

“I didn’t know the Christmas spirit was so grouchy.”

DSC_0798A real Christmas tree has always been the center of my holiday decorating. Growing up, we’d hang stockings, put out Advent calendars and display nativity scenes, but the season didn’t officially start until the tree was plunked into a bucket of boiling Mountain Dew. We had the only caffeine-addicted tree on the street.

After dad strung the lights and went to hide in his bedroom, we’d attack the tree like a whirling tornado, fighting over who got to hang favorite ornaments. Once we were in bed, mom and dad would re-decorate and hang tinsel, one silvery strand at a time, on every branch.

I’ve carried on that tradition (minus the tinsel that would cling to our clothes) to create our own perfect Christmas tree.

Our holiday tree has never been a symbol of opulence. We’ve never had a Winter Wonderland tree with white fluffy reindeer frolicking through snowy silk ribbons, dangling with sparkly Swarovski crystals and silver-sequined snowflakes.

Instead, our tree’s branches are weighed down by homemade angels with ratted-out hair and lopsided halos, clothespin reindeer tangled around hand-beaded wreaths, and South Park characters rubbing shoulders with the baby Jesus.

Decades of school photo ornaments hang amid the evergreen boughs, detailing years of missing teeth, questionable hairstyles and teenage angst. And loved ones who have passed away are remembered with ornaments ranging from dancing shoes to teardrop prisms.

Put together, it’s an explosion of bad taste that would make Martha Stewart cry. But it’s not just a Christmas tree—it’s a family tree representing years of holiday memories.

The finished product is only half of the story. Finding the perfect Christmas tree is a tradition/catastrophe I anticipate/loathe every December. Hence my husband’s misguided “fake tree” suggestion. He just doesn’t understand that a plastic tree is a soulless imitation of holiday beauty, and the first step to anarchy.

Each year, I schedule a day to pick out a tree, and without fail it’s the coldest, snowiest, iciest weekend of the month. My youngest daughter tags along to make sure I get it right, and to help hold the tree on top of the car once the loosely-tied knots start to unravel–much like my mind.

We scour tree lots, looking for an evergreen that is devoid of bare spots, more alive than dead, and not full of spiders. (Don’t ask. It’s a horrible holiday memory.) We also try to avoid tree lots managed by the town drunk. (That’s another Christmas/horror saga involving a leering, inebriated tree salesperson with a chain saw.)

pig angelOnce the tree arrives safely home, we discover the 10-foot tree won’t fit into our 8-foot living room. We attack it with dull handsaws and scissors until it fits, and then, in a flurry of Christmas chaos, we adorn it with lights and ornaments, and top it with a rickety angel, balanced precariously on the highest branch.

When the dust settles, we’ll snuggle by the tree, watching Christmas lights twinkle while the snow softly falls. It’s the epitome of holiday perfection. Until my husband whispers, “What do you think about having Christmas dinner at Village Inn?”

Could be a long, cold winter in our home.

What’s Hanging On My Tree

If your Christmas tree is a perfectly-shaped, fake evergreen garnished with gold, silver and magenta, and decorated within an inch of its perfect life, this blog is not for you.

(This is like the supermodels of Christmas trees. My tree has a self-esteem problem next to this glorious creation.)

Our family’s Christmas tree is the perfect example of hilarious imperfection. It all starts with a freezing trip to the tree lot to find the pine tree that best suits our family: half-dead, a little bent and losing its needles. We strap it to the car and take it home where we plop it in a magical water/sprite mixture and wait for it to die.

There is no “theme” for our tree, unless that theme would be “Salvation Army.” We have pictures, homemade ornaments from decades past, silk (fraying) bulbs, stuff I don’t recognize and new ornaments every year. These are some of my favorites:

Pig Angel: I made this beautiful creature in Girl Scouts when I was about 10. My brother thought it was a pig. Stupid brother. The name has stuck ever since. It’s become a family heirloom (that no one wants).

(“Pig Angels We Have Heard on High”)

Cartoon Characters: Tastes change. Kids grow up. There used to be Barbie doll ornaments, Disney characters and cute little mice with dollhouses. Now, it’s a South Park Christmas.

(“Hark, hear the bells/Sweet silver bells/ All seem to say, “Ding dong, M’kay.” I KNOW Mr. Mackey sings that, not Cartman. But I don’t have a Mr. Mackey ornament. So shut up, all  you South Park purists.)

Photos: School pictures framed in the belly of Christmas characters. Some pictures are funnier than others as we’ve gone through missing teeth, 90s hair, goofy smiles and funky clothes. (My kids refuse to acknowledge these photos.)

(That’s my daughter about 12 years ago. She’s the one without the red hat.)

Homemade Treasures: We have clothespin reindeer, painted plaster puppies, cross-stitched candles and styrofoam drums. (By the way, what do drums have to do with Christmas? Is it representative of banging my head against the wall?) Amongst the homemade Christmas decor, we have this little angel:

(This is named after a former neighbor–Esmerelda. This is what Esmerelda would like like if she’d been hit by a bus on Christmas morning.)

If my Christmas tree depresses you,  take heart. In just a few weeks all these precious ornaments will be stacked back into their coffee cans to wait for another holiday season.