, Salem, MA


January 7, 2013

Column: One last thought on Christmas


Finally, the tree guy would relent and let my dad and his four frozen kids have the tree for little money. I suppose this exchange was for my father, part of his very own private Christmas ritual that brought him some amount of cheer, but for me not so much. As well, then we’d get the hapless thing home and in the stand, and we’d have to twirl it around and around to decide which side was the least damaged.

My dad would put the lights on (you have to do this first, as I would remind my daughters in years to come), and then my brothers and I would follow with the tinsel (another thing I hated) because my father would make us put it on piece by piece. “It’s supposed to resemble frozen icicles,” he tried to explain. Yet the second he’d walk into the kitchen for a snack or to talk to my mother, I’d take a fistful of the terrible and tedious stuff and just throw it at the tree, not caring where the phony-looking silvery strands landed.

For a couple of years, he purchased cotton from the pharmacy in town and would carefully place it on the branches to have it resemble snow. This took hours, and as I sat on the stairs watching him, waiting not so patiently with a box of ornaments in my lap, I resolved never to put cotton on any future tree that I might purchase weeks in advance of the holiday in my adult life. Along with the false dazzle of tinsel, I hated this counterfeit snow.

When I had a family of my own, the tree always purchased well in advance of Christmas, every morning as I came down the stairs to start breakfast, I’d first plug in the tree. And I’d step back and smile and revel in the glory of all that green, all the merrily colored lights. I’d come home from teaching and my afternoons of carpooling and the first thing we’d do is plug the tree back in, and it wasn’t until I was about the climb the stairs for bed that I’d turn it off.

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