|This week Jinny’s article will be written by her daughter, Adele Anderson.
The only thing about which I am truly and immovably obsessive is my Christmas Tree. My mother had a beautiful tree, but I think that I can say, with no disrespect intended, that mine is a masterpiece.
When my two oldest, now in their early twenties, were young, the choosing of the tree was a ritual. We would go to various Christmas Tree vendors and carefully examine every single tree on the lot. We had a general consensus that the tree needed to be plump and full, with no obvious gaping holes or spaces between the branches. It was also understood that we all needed to agree on the tree or it would not be chosen. This was an operation which sometimes took hours.
Once home, the tree had to be measured and the bottom sawed off to preserve freshness. When it was upright in the tree stand, it had to be turned until the most perfect side was face front. Then it needed to sit overnight until the branches fell properly. That was always the hard part for them because when they were very young they wanted to decorate it immediately.
The next day, the many, many lights had to be put on the tree. This was a long, drawn-out bit of business since I did it alone and the lights had to be spread out evenly throughout the tree. When everything was as it should be, we hauled out the trunk of ornaments and began to decorate. I let them put ornaments wherever they wanted, which generally meant that they were clumped in the bottom half of the tree as dictated by their lack of height. When they went to bed I would rearrange all the ornaments to create the appropriate balance, leaving their favorites at eye level where they could see them.
I would go long into the night, determined to create the right harmony and symmetry. Our tree is very eclectic; I despise designer trees that are color-coordinated like some sort of display in a model home. Christmas trees should be filled with ornaments with meaning and sentiment so that when a child unwraps them he or she will say, “I remember this one,” with warmth and delight and hang it on the tree with a kind of loving reverence. Ornaments should remind them of Christmases past and moments of holiday magic. I still have the ornaments my children made on my tree and they will be there as long as I have one.
After the ornaments were perfectly placed, I would put on the gold-beaded garland. It had to drape just right, of course, as if the tree had grown specifically for that purpose. Sometimes, the kids and I would string popcorn and cranberries for the tree while listening to Christmas music or watching Snoopy or Rudolph on television. I gave them heavy thread and darning needles and bowls of stale popcorn and crimson cranberries that they set between them. The count was always the same, ten kernels of corn and five cranberries. I would always smile when I heard them counting under their breath as they drew the popcorn and cranberries down the long, snaking thread. I don’t do the organic garland anymore since my labor force has dwindled down to just Chuck. It would be rather a lot to ask of him.
The final touch to the tree was the fake candles on the ends of the branches, positioned symmetrically and coaxed into military uprightness. My kids loved the candles; the leant a lovely old-fashioned touch to the tree. Finally, at the top, I put a star. Not one of those tinselly things, a plain, illuminated star; the kind that children draw on Christmas Trees or in the midnight blue of the night sky. When all was done, the tree was a glorious rhapsody of reflected light that glowed with its own aura.
At the beginning of December my children’s friends would begin to ask them if our tree were up yet. Our tree was legendary and awaited with great anticipation. I became accustomed to children with rosy winter cheeks tromping through my house in snow boots and bundled up in woolen hats and mittens; coming to check and see if my tree were as beautiful as they remembered from the year before. I would put down all the shades and darken the room so that the only illumination was the tree itself. There would be lots of “ooooooohs,” and faces shining in the blazing lights and no one ever appeared to be disappointed. My oldest son even wrote an essay in 5th grade called, My Mother’s Tree. He got an ‘A’ if I recall.
I have since purchased a lovely artificial tree, a state of affairs that appalled all three of my children at first. I reminded them of their sadness each year when we took down the tree and disposed of it. There was a cold, cruelty in it that always distressed both them and me; a feeling that we had killed and used a living thing just to toss it away when its usefulness was gone. They have since recovered from their objections to the artificial tree, comforted with the knowledge that it is as beautiful as the real ones always were.
This year, I found myself reluctant to go through the work of putting up and decorating the tree. My oldest son lives in Florida and would not be home and my daughter is graduating from college this year and lives near the University with a roommate. She would only be home for Christmas Eve and Day. I didn’t really think that Chuck was all that enthused with the tree anymore. He is 12 now and making that subtle shift from sentimentality that boys feel they must at that age. I thought, perhaps, that I would reduce the extravagance of the tree; fewer lights, less ornaments, no candles. I am older, the lines of children are no more, and the anticipation is less.
But in the end, I was compelled to invest the time and effort and do the tree as I had always done. Once I had begun the process, I could not half do it. I could not make it less than it had always been. I am glad that I could not. My daughter brought her roommate to see it. “You have to see my mother’s tree”, she told her. “It is the most beautiful Christmas Tree in the entire world.” My friend, who does not have a tree because her cats tend to climb it, called to ask if it were up yet, because she really wanted to see it. My oldest son called from Florida and asked his little brother if the tree were up and as perfect as ever. Finally, when Chuck stood before the finished tree with his hands held out, as if they were cold and he could warm them on the brightness of the dance of color and light, and said, “Our tree is so beautiful, it makes my heart hurt.” I knew that I had made the right decision.