“I think it would be nice to totally redo the Christmas tree,” my husband mentioned as we drove back from one of his family’s many holiday gatherings. “I’d like it to have ornaments that are new, and that are just about us.”
It was sweet.
And I kinda wanted to scream.
Since the crumbling of my first marriage, and the lack of space for a full sized tree in my varied living situations, I’d been buying ornaments for my FutureTree. Some women have a hope chest. Some women dream of the names of their children-to-come. Me? I had two bins of autumnal décor that I was hoping very much to finally open and share with Dustin, my soul mate, the love of my life…and he had just voiced a desire for something that had nothing to do with my FutureTree dream.
So I did what any rational adult would do in this situation.
…I waited for him to go to work, and I set up his gloriously huge Christmas tree all by myself.
The job of tree set-up has generally fallen to me for most of my adult life, but I’d forgotten how heavy a non-tabletop-tree can be. I ended up pushing its storage bin up the basement stairs with one hand while clinging to the railing with the other to prevent both me and the bin from falling backwards, sorted the branches by their colour stickers, and …realized I had no idea how to get the lights on the trunk of the tree to light up.
After an hour of fighting with lights, I chose to just light the layers of branches. One of our household cats leapt into the middle of the tree to supervise from within as I returned to the basement to retrieve my FutureTree ornaments.
People talk about their holiday traditions – visits with family, singing carols to strangers – but this solitary act of decorating a tree? This is my tradition. Invariably, the other people in my life don’t have time, don’t want to be bothered, and so, generally speaking, I’d find myself alone in a room, setting up a not-quite-adult tree and adorning it with bits of my childhood. Wooden ornaments my mother painted 40 years ago, left behind in the divorce, and that my father tried to throw away…skeletons and bats, gifts from friends…a cornhusk doll given to me when my first poem was published…they all made their memory-filled ways to the branches of my small tree, to be taken down..oh, eventually. “If I’m putting it up? I get to decide when it comes down,” I announced one year when questioned about why there was still a Christmas tree in the living room in March.
I looked at FutureTreeNoMore, at the glorious size of it.
I pulled out the first box of ornaments. The sales tag on it was from 2007. The next one read 2008, and so on. Boxes of grandiose hooks I’d almost forgotten buying, bearing glass beads and composed of silver swoops of wire, connected the black and orange spheres to the tree’s branches.
And I cried.
I thought about the frantically lonely child in her room, mourning her parents’ divorce and clinging to the past by putting those wooden ornaments on a tiny trash picked tree that she’d set up in her bedroom. I thought about the years when I didn’t bother with a tree at all because I was renting a room in a friend’s house and isn’t Christmas about people more than it is about a fake bit of woodland, anyway?
I thought about my coworkers back in Pittsburgh and how we had successfully orchestrated putting up a non-sanctioned Christmas tree outside our office last year, about how much joy there had been in that bit of ninja decorating.
I looked at FutureTreeNoLonger, and all of these tiny glass promises I’d been making to myself for so many years.
I sniffled and hung another glass piece of candy corn on the tree. Looked at the clock. Realized I was out of time.
By the time Dustin walked through the door, all of the boxes and bins had been put away. I took him by the hand and guided him into the living room, ready to apologize for what I’d done.
A smile lit up his face. “I had no idea you could even lift that thing up the stairs! It’s lovely! I love it.”
“You really don’t mind?”
“Honey! No! I wanted to do it, I just…it’s a lot of work. How long did that take you? It usually takes me most of the day.”
I let that thought sink in, the realization that he was saying his tradition was also to do this alone.
“95% of the things you see have never been used before,” I told him. “It’s almost like buying new…”
“Perfect! That’s perfect. Thank you.”
I hugged him again…and tried to be gracious when he ducked under the tree and figured out how to get the trunk lights to work in less than thirty seconds.
As we’ve been moving through our first December together as a married couple, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I don’t have a lot of happy holiday memories, or examples of, “This is how my family celebrated the season.” In 2013, I had some powerful ‘a-HA!’ moments of understanding more of the ways my fractured childhood created my fractured adult self, and how much I need to unlearn old coping skills because they don’t help me anymore. I spent so many holidays feeling alone, unconnected to the people around me, setting up private Christmas trees, wishing I knew how to do it better.
I think I’m finally figuring out how to do that. And it definitely means sharing the tree duties next year.
Happy holidays, y’all.