Big tree or no big tree; that is the question

#503 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2006, Hills Newspapers

I felt a big downturn after Christmas this year. I dragged around for days alternating between sadness and irritation. And, much earlier than usual, I began to remove every evidence of the holiday, enlisted Anet’s help to put away wrapping paper and ribbons, decorations and empty gift boxes.

Somehow we were both surprised that it took us most of a day to clear the house of red and green. We are efficient and organized, and we move quickly. Yet, removing and packing garlands, nesting each tree ornament in tissue, and unwinding the many tree lights from the branches seemed to go on and on.

Occasionally one of us would grumpily say, “Let’s cut back next year.”

What was going on here? We’re not usually grumpy, especially about Christmas. Maybe what was different this year was that there are no kids left at home.

I think many of us do Christmas for the kids. I just remembered the year that I found out on a visit to my grandparents that they did not have a Christmas tree. They said, quite matter-a-factly that they hadn’t had a tree in years.

I was about 10 years old at the time and just couldn’t believe that anyone would willingly pass on one of the best parts of Christmas. I asked my family for help in providing for my “poor” grandparents.

We got a tree, and my cousins and I hung on it paper chains and cranberry strings. It made us – the makers of Christmas in that house – very happy.

Although for the first time my children are living elsewhere, all was prepared at home this year as always. Both Nick and Annie came to the house several times during the season. They were home for a lively party for their friends and ours, several times to do their laundry, and were back, along with Annie’s boyfriend Jake, for presents on Christmas Eve.

Everyone, including Anet and me, was happy with anticipation. The tree was resplendent, twinkling with light, and under and around it were many brightly wrapped gifts. We opened them all, and it was fun.

But it was a more grown up experience than before, more sedate, even more organized. Wrappings were not flung over shoulders but rather were crumpled and stuffed into a sack. Because the kids know that I save ribbons to reuse, these were neatly set aside.

Things were different. Nick hadn’t been here as in past years to carry the tree up from the car. Annie didn’t leave a snack for Santa. She simply forgot. No children got up at six on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left in stockings.

As we opened presents, I don’t think there was any shrieking. No one, upon seeing what any box contained let out a gasp of “Cool!” I don’t think I heard a single, “Yes!”

That must be what I missed this year. I must be still wanting and waiting for that biggest of Christmas thrills – a surprised and amazed child. Like the years my son got the fire engine with extension ladder, or skateboard with the right skateboard logo. Or the Christmas when my daughter received the pink fairy princess dress, or the time she got gold glitter boots.

Those were ever golden moments. Annie’s and Nick’s smiles were worth all that we do to plan, shop, choose, wrap, decorate – everything.

Oh well. Not much I can do about the kids growing older. Or myself, or Anet, either. We’ve done Christmas in much the same way for quite some time now. We could call it warm tradition, or maybe it’s just old.

The size of the Christmas tree, for example, is discussed every year. Anet says, “Let’s get a smaller tree this year.” Any family member within hearing distance answers with some alarm, “How much smaller?”

Anet is concerned because she is the one who puts the lights on the tree. She likes a lot of lights, the little clear ones in 100-light strands. For a 6-foot tree, she uses 20 or more strands, taking most of a day to meticulously attach them.

We all love the look of these taller trees, exceptionally brightly lit, but Anet points out, a shorter tree will take less time.

“We have the best tree of anybody,” Nick said just this year. “You don’t want to change that.”

But we did buy a slightly smaller tree this year, and maybe an hour was saved in light attachment. Then we added ornaments and glass garlands and a large glittery star on the top.

Garlands were hung from the ceiling beams in the kitchen and around the front door. Mantel and windows decorated. Baby Jesus wrapped and laid in straw in his manger. Snowmen on hall mirror and in front bathroom. Favorite meatballs and gougere and baked ham heated and laid out on ironed tablecloth.

Oh, you know. It’s a lot. I’m feeling like it’s a new era. Time to do something different next year. Maybe Hawaii, or even Italy as friends did this year.

We’ll see. I’m a great nostalgic. As we get close to Christmas, I could easily be the one lobbying for a big tree. And Anet could well be agreeing.

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