The other night, after an exceedingly long day at school, I arrived home to an empty house around 9 p.m. After saying hello to my cats (hubby is out of town, due back on Sunday), I plugged in the Christmas tree lights and prepared my usual home-alone fare of a cold glass of white wine, some peanuts and olives. These I carried over to the table in front of the sofa. I then turned off all the lights in the house and settled into the sofa to sit and gaze at my lighted tree.
Although Christmas trees are deeply associated with Christians and Christmas, I don’t really see them that way any more. My attraction for them comes from my taste, a bit of nostalgia, and a strange atavistic yearning on my part to bring some green into my home in the middle of the winter. Aesthetically, I love the orderly flashiness sported by well decked-out, lighted trees, whether indoors or outdoors. All Christmas trees, no matter how seemingly tasteful, strike me as a little tacky—akin to Vegas showgirls showing off their splendiferous, shallow beauty, only without the sex.
This year, I purchased a Douglas fir, a little short of five feet, from Home Depot. I asked the woman who sold it to me where it came from, and she said she wasn’t sure, but that it arrived on a big truck loaded with trees. At $25, it was cheap compared to trees its size that are selling on the street around the corner from my building in New York, which start at $75. My tree has dropped surprisingly few needles since my daughter and I put it up and decorated it about 10 days ago. I think I got a bargain.
I know description is boring, so I’ll make this short: Our tree sports a single string of small white lights, several black-and-white, crocheted panda bears, a bunch of fat, soft, red-ribboned teddy bears, one awkwardly large wooden red-nosed Rudolf ornament, a few random pieces from who knows where, and twelve plain, shiny silver balls.
Many of my friends (most of whom are not religious) make fun of me for liking Christmas trees, and especially for having one in my home. They grumpily accuse me of forgetting that Christmas trees are for Christians, and that they’re not good for the environment. They always add that they’re extraordinarily messy. (They are—cleaning up after them is an ordeal.)
Because I grew up in a home that always had a Christmas tree at Christmas, I feel nostalgia for them. My father was a quiet atheist and my mother, although Christian on the outside, was a severe doubter on the inside. Even so, my mother loved Christmas trees. My father, meanwhile, loathed them—which meant fights always broke out over the buying and decorating of the family tree.
One Christmas, when I was barely a teenager, after my mother, my three sisters, and I had finished decorating a scrawny, ugly tinderbox of a tree, my mother stood back and, hands on hips, pronounced it a failure and said it had to go. With that, my father began yelling and stomping about, my sisters and I began wailing, and my mother began calmly removing all the ornaments and lights. My father was sent off to fetch another tree. He returned with a plump thing that had clearly cost an arm and a leg—far more than the first tree, or what the family budget allowed. I am certain he lied to my mother about the price. He then left the house, slamming the front door behind him as he headed off for the local bar. Softly sobbing, we girls helped our mother decorate the second tree.
My parents are long gone. What in heaven’s name prompted me to recall this? Staring at my lighted tree, glowing in the darkness of my home, I reminded myself that my father was a man who did his best to please his wife. I finished my glass of wine and gazed some more at my silly tree. After a while, I unplugged the lights and went to bed.