She frowned and immediately dismissed the idea of a Christmas tree.
“I’ll get one when I can afford to decorate it properly,” she concluded, “not with all that cheap tacky stuff.”
Oh… I couldn’t help feeling my friend’s not at all veiled dig at me. So my Christmas tree was cheap… and tacky. Well, I could certainly give her “cheap”. We were both students at the time, living on student budgets, which in my case meant very little parental help. But tacky? I had tried to avoid that, so I thought. I eventually decided my not too big, not too ostentatious, and definitely not too expensive tree was a normal one, perhaps even nicer than others, because it was mine, I liked it, and it meant something to me.
But cheap and tacky as it may have been, she still seemed to have a great time when she first visited after I decorated it; and our Christmas gifts always found their way under my tree. She would wait for me to walk out of the room, so she could sneak my present under the tree, next to hers, then we would both open Santa’s offerings, having a great time. That’s why, when I heard it was worth having a Christmas tree only if one could buy the decorations from a certain store (where one ornament alone cost more than my tree and everything in it and under it), I was… puzzled.
Hers was the first Christmas tree I got for somebody else. I know many people don’t enjoy this particular tradition, but she didn’t seem to be one of them. I was pleased to see my intuition hadn’t failed me. Her face lit up when she saw the small artificial tree with a few ornaments, all the same colour, matching her room. For years to come, the cheap little tree made a special appearance in various places in her home. Last time I got to see her on Christmas, it had even received one of those obscenely expensive ornaments. The pearls were real, she didn’t fail to mention to anyone who was visiting her.
Pink Christmas trees are in this year. Or was it blue? Or was this last year altogether? I must admit, I choose to ignore the fact that there are fashion trends even when it comes to Christmas trees. I have great fun seeing all sorts of trees, the weirder the better, but I like mine in a certain way. And I need it to have a meaning, a story.
I grew up having a real Christmas tree each year. The holidays, especially the tree, were magical, even if I never believed in Santa. My magic wasn’t about Santa or religion. It was about having my mother with me; it was about shopping for a tree with my grandfather; it was about my grandmother baking for days; it was about those few moments when everything was beautiful and people were decent to each other. It wouldn’t last for long, that unusual peace, but that was the true magical quality – the fact that we could all be together and have those calm, happy hours, maybe even a day or two before it all imploded.
I gave up on having a real tree, it’s not the best option for my home. But every year a part of me goes, “Let’s get a real one this time. Come on, you know you want to!” I can easily silence my inner child, but not without a walk through a Christmas tree lot and a whiff of real trees. My Christmas tree, much like my Christmas celebration, is nothing like what I used to have growing up. Or perhaps it is, in some strange mutated ways?… That loving atmosphere was a feeble attempt for my benefit, I eventually had to understand; and as soon as I was old enough to know better, nobody bothered to put on a show anymore… Well, not for me at least; there was still the outside world who had to see us in a certain way. Nevertheless, my feelings had been real, and everything had been real to me for those few years while I still believed. Then, for years and years, in crazy ways and unexpected contexts, I tried to recapture those feelings, that childish sensation of peace and bliss, I eventually had to admit to myself.
I used to accompany my grandfather when he went to get our tree. We’d walk up and down trying to find the right one and he always cared about what I wanted. We inevitably ended up with a tree that was too tall, so I also got to impatiently supervise the work that went into making the green beast fit our home. Even later on, when he lost his interest in celebrating, my grandfather would offer to help me fit the tree in its stand. Each Christmas tree used to be a unique experience. These days, I prefer my tree slightly more predictable, just like the holiday itself… It’s the eighth Christmas with the one I’ve got now, I believe, and I’m not pleased to have noticed some small signs of fatigue as I was assembling it this December. But it still has a couple more years left in it.
Much like its ornaments, the tree has a story, and I know I will be terribly reluctant to let it go when the time comes. Forgetting when, how and with whom I got it is highly unlikely. But the tree is only one of the beautiful memories I share with that particular person. I look at some of the handmade glass baubles we got at the same time – they remind me that I always enjoyed my Christmas trees because they were more than just decorative objects. There were stories back then as well. My mother and I trimmed the tree, which really meant I was barely allowed to touch anything as I didn’t know what I was doing. But it didn’t bother me that much, I loved how she showed me old ornaments from her childhood and told me the same anecdotes each year; for a moment, her face would light up remembering Christmases she spent in that home as a child. When darkness and grumpiness replaced that flicker, I chose to ignore it in those first years of life.
To be continued…