Our Christmas tree is not perfect this year. It’s too short for one thing, and even though it wants to be watered constantly, which may or may not be a result of the cat drinking out of the stand; it has been dropping needles at an alarming rate, producing a thick carpet of green around its ankles every few days.
The size of the Christmas tree was one of the things that my first husband and I used to argue about. I always wanted an enormous tree, one that would transform our lives forever with the magic of the holiday. I believed it should graze the ceiling with a majesty that would absorb the mysterious tensions between us and spread its fragrant branches wide enough to provide a child with a fairy-lit place to play. If we had to wrestle it up the stairs because it was too large for the elevator and saw a foot off the bottom to get it upright, well, was that too much to ask?
A tiny saw
My partner in this endeavor was not only the one who had to buy the tree, but also the one who had to lug it home on his shoulder (I was no help with a child or two in tow). It was he who had to get it up the stairs then hack off the bottom when it turned out to be even taller than our nice high ceilings.
Adjusting the height meant sawing endlessly with the sticky blade of a child’s sized saw kept at the bottom of the tool drawer and originally acquired to do something to a ham bone. We didn’t own the sharp instrument purchased with a Christmas tree in mind and kept over the tool bench in a country basement. I recall perhaps only one occasion (I’m sorry to admit) bringing him a delicious concoction of some kind to thank him for his labors. In those early days I might have also asked him without a scrap of irony to, “just put the lights on and I’ll do the rest with the children after their baths”.
Decades later, when our marriage broke up, I moved with my children back to the property I grew up on to be near my elderly mother, and renovated a derelict building next to her house to live in. The dear friend who acted as general contractor designed and built a sky light for the middle of the space that looks like a big flat-topped pyramid sticking out of the roof, both to open up the oppressive expanse of ceiling and so that I could put an enormous Christmas tree there.
The tree is always visible through the French doors as you wind down the driveway and from everywhere in the house except the bedrooms, fulfilling all my Christmas requirements. It reaches beyond the height of the main ceiling into the sky light, so unless you stand very close, the top is hidden like the tree in the Nutcracker Suite which grows to such wonderfully monstrous proportions in Clara’s dream.
There is a potential buyer now for our quirky property, and I will sell it early in the spring if the deal doesn’t fall apart. So this holiday might have become a sad “last Christmas” with sentimental sniffling at unpredictable intervals. But that was not to be. Last night my relatively recently-acquired husband and I decorated the tree together. As a non-practicing and extremely sociable Jew, he experiences Christmas as a pleasantly decorative season with lots of festive opportunities for good music, dining well and donning his most fetching evening slippers – all in the company of our favorite people. He feels no need to right all the wrongs of a family’s history with each holiday tradition as I used to; he just helps trim the tree.
I didn’t try to coerce children into helping; they were at the movies. I felt no urge to share the provenance of each ornament as it emerged from the box or to worry aloud about where we would be trimming a tree next year. There was little talk of any sort, just companionable off-key humming to a random assortment of Christmas CDs.
After we finished, I thanked my dear companion for helping me. I made us each a mug of Café Suisse laced liberally with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and as we sat there enjoying our delicious quaffs and admiring our handiwork, I experienced one of those moments of grace that sneak up when we least expect them. My sub-prime tree glowed and twinkled magically with the reflection of several generations of ornaments, and the warmth of the mug in my hands mirrored the contentment I felt toward the world.