For today’s holiday story let us talk about how we decorated Christmas trees.
When I was a kid, our Christmas tree always looked like it had been rolled through someone’s junk drawer. Sure, we had plenty of your standard globe ornaments, nutcrackers, and various commemorative Hallmark ornaments, but in our house it always always perfectly acceptable to hang weird stuff on our tree as well. When I say weird I mean things like key chains, magazine cutouts, and articles of clothing.
Now you might think that adoring a tree with all this stuff would look terrible, but if you do, you’re missing out. The odd ornament tradition started many years ago but by the time I was in high school we’d turned it into something of a holiday art form. You see, during our first family Christmases, my father had a dream about how he wanted us to decorate our tree. Every year on December 1st he’d blast Christmas music through the house to put himself in the holiday mood. Two weeks before Christmas we’d go chop down a spindly pine tree and then he would do his best to make his dream come true.
The Christmas tree dream went like this: he’d set up the tree and we’d each take turns hanging an ornament. Then we’d take handfuls of silver plastic tinsel and we’d gently release little clumps of it over various branches, letting it drift down and hang picturesquely until the tree was perfect in its Christmas glory. This was designed to bring us all together but it did not work for one very simple reason: my father has some very good qualities but patience is not one of them.
The first time we tried this we each hung one ornament before he started scolding us for doing it wrong. Then, because he didn’t give us any instructions on how to do it right, he got mad because we were going too slow. The tinsel was a disaster – we flung it in the general direction of the tree and it seemed eager to stick to every piece of furniture and both of our cats, but none of it ever reached the tree itself. This seemed to exasperate my dad a lot. Within minutes it had devolved into a shouting match and we were banned from touching the tree. We sat across the room as he did his best to undo our damage.
He abandoned this dream after a few years and for the remainder of my childhood we basically half-assed the Christmas tree. Only one or two of our many boxes of ornaments would get brought up from the basement, we’d use half as many lights as we had in years past, and we never used tinsel again. As you can imagine these trees looked pretty sad until one of my siblings hit on the idea of filling the empty gaps in the tree with a bunch of old key chains we had in a box from one of my dad’s former employers. I don’t know if hanging the key chains was an attempt at a prank or simply to liven up the tree but we quickly took the prank route and dedicated the next decade to hiding other non-ornaments in the tree to one-up each other.
The key chains quickly gave way to other, more unusual decorations. One year I was walking through the living room and happened to glance at the tree and saw this looking out at me:
My sister Veronica had cut it out of a Cat Fancy magazine and now she watched my expression with amusement as I realized what it was. Everyone had a good laugh and we continued sneaking magazine cutouts, stuffed animals, socks, and other things into the tree. We still hung real ornaments but we had much more fun with the fake ones. Over the years the hanging of fake ornaments became one of our holiday traditions; each year we’d work new items into the mix and laugh every time.
This will be the third Christmas that I’ve lived with Ella and so far we haven’t established too much in the way of Christmas tree traditions. Of course there’s the celebrated marshmallow ball, now in it’s 20th year:
But lately I’ve been looking at our little tree and thinking that it looks a little bare. One of these days I’m going to sneak in a few magazine cutouts, maybe a key chain and a pair of gloves and see how long it takes her to notice.