My husband thinks I’m a control freak which is funny because he has actually met my mother.
One year, for reasons that continue to escape us, my dad, my sister and I thought it would be a nice idea to pick up a Christmas tree at the lot in the center of our little mountain town on our way home one evening. It doesn’t get any cuter than that lot — right down to the hot cider and a pot belly stove in the middle of everything. The stove would melt the daylights out of your 1970s ski jacket if you backed into it while sizing up a tree, but that melting smell is all part of the charm and if Proust can have a cookie then I can have melting nylon.
We put the tree in the station wagon which was, being the ‘70s, eight city blocks long, and drove home. And then we drove the tree back because mom made us return it. It apparently was crooked, flat on one side, had big gaping holes and good lord what were we thinking.
We all thought it was beautiful. It was a tree.
Like my mother, I sometimes have strong opinions about things, but ever since the Great Christmas Tree Return of 1978, I keep my tree thoughts to myself. When I pick out trees I try to make it look like it’s no big deal, giving trees no more than a cursory once-over as if to say “look at how not-control-freakish I am!”
Any lingering Christmas Tree Anxiety I was experiencing was completely alleviated once we found WinterFest. The tree sale benefits the high school music department and the trees themselves are grown by woodland elves or as it turns out, Canadians. They are perfect. So perfect that all we do is find one that’s skinny enough to fit in the corner of the dining room, and then buy it without even surreptitiously scanning for flaws. Not only are there trees at WinterFest, there is music, a bake sale, and hot cocoa with candy canes and whipped cream. It doesn’t get better than that.
I love WinterFest so much that this year I volunteered to come early and help unload the truck. So it is clearly my fault that everything went sideways.
The trees were not there when I arrived at 8 a.m. to help unwrap and stack them. Nor were they there by 8:30. At some point, maybe around 9 or 10, it came out that not only had there been weather delays, but they were held up at customs. I don’t know if there was a problem with Canadian trees opportunistically letting themselves be cut down and displayed in American homes thereby taking jobs away from American trees, or if one of the trees was discovered planning to find a manger in which to birth a seedling this side of the border, but whatever the reason, there were no trees for the Winterfest tree sale.
Volunteers who had not just jinxed the entire sale sprang into action, setting up tree pre-sales and orchestrating an evening pick-up. I made a sight-unseen tree purchase— which I assure you is a first for my family.
When the truck finally arrived my husband was there to help unload the trees, sorting them into pens by height to wait until their families came to claim them. And then he brought our tree home, still tied up in shipping twine. My mother would have died on the spot.
Even in its bound state it looked different from the other trees we’ve gotten, but I am not a freak so I kept that to myself. The tree stand came out of the basement, the tree went in, and the twine came off. As we watched, the tree expanded like one of those Hoberman sphere toys, or more seasonally, like it had polished off Thanksgiving and hit the Christmas cookies hard, sitting in our dining room like an overstuffed Mother Ginger. We moved furniture to make room as the branches unfolded, ultimately revealing a perfect, nearly spherical tree that has a certain glow to it as though it may actually be ready to deliver an infant among friendly beasts.
Our cat had been put up for adoption right around Christmas last year, so we decided not to put fragile ornaments on the tree, just in case there was a reason for that timing. Meanwhile the dog, who came to us from a shelter in the south and has been trusted around trees for years, now loves backing into the lower limbs and scratching all her itches on the luxuriously broad boughs — something she could never do on our normal, skinny, corner-shaped trees. So now we have a border of dog hair on the bottom of our tree, which we we see as a design element — like the fur trim on Santa’s coat, or if you prefer, organic, sustainable, humanely harvested tinsel. We decided to leave all the other ornaments off — not just the fragile ones— opting instead for a star, lights, dog tinsel, and an ornamental cat.
This year, the symbol of the holiday in our house is not a perfectly decorated tanenbaum, but a trinity of refugees— a shelter cat celebrating her first Christmas with us, a well-scratched rescue dog, and a tree that is beyond all judgment. We feel weirdly, brightly blessed.
And when it’s all over, I don’t have to put any ornaments away.