I haven’t put up a Christmas tree in years. I announced this proudly in the newsroom shortly after moving to Kansas City in 2013. Food writer Sarah Gish, who sat near me, joked that I had lost all credibility as House+Home editor — that I not putting up a Christmas tree would be akin to she not cooking.
Oh Sarah, Sarah, Sarah … sweet, innocent, newlywed Sarah. How could she know the marital strife that comes with putting up a Christmas tree?
Let me back up a bit here: It was November 2001, seven months into my marriage to sportswriter Vahe Gregorian, when I noted at breakfast that artificial Christmas trees were on sale at the local hardware store. Best of all, they came with lights already affixed to the branches.
Vahe was shocked.
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Him: Hon, I don’t like fake trees. We always had real trees growing up. They smell nice.
Me: Oh. OK. Well, when do you want to get a real one?
Him: I don’t know. Let me look at my schedule.
A couple of weeks went by and one Saturday morning in December he woke up and announced that he had 47 minutes to get a fresh tree. He had phone interviews scheduled and a deadline to meet.
Trouble was brewing. I could feel it. Getting a tree in less than 47 minutes was going to be a feat if everything went like it should. And pretty much nothing goes precisely as it should.
We started off running late, which caused Vahe to simmer with anxiety before we even pulled out of the driveway. That anxiety grew at the tree lot when I wanted to look at more than two trees before making a decision.
A fresh tree is a must for Vahe. An attractive tree? Well that’s apparently not so important.
Somewhere at the tree lot I had started talking to him in a tone of voice that he hates — it involves eye rolling, clenched teeth and is rather juvenile, if I do say so myself. This put him in a snit, which launched me from annoyed to angry and suddenly we were in a full-blown spat.
Things got worse a few minutes later when the tree almost flew off the top of the car on the highway on the way home.
By the time Vahe set the tree in its stand in the living room, more than an hour had passed and he was not talking to me. He stomped off to interview and write, leaving me to decorate, which of course involved cursing and wrestling lights onto the tree (not to mention a cocktail or three).
A few hours later, I plugged in the lights, stepped back to behold the finished product and was cast instantly into a warm, fuzzy spell. Like a mother holding her newborn, I blissfully forgot the pain that had just ensued.
That spell lasted until mid-January when I was left — once again, alone — to denude the tree of its lights, garlands and ornaments, wrestle it outside and clean up all the needles, because Vahe was moving from one part of the country to another covering college bowl games.
Fast forward a year and what I just described played out again. In fact, this went on for a few years, with me growing more and more resentful that he wouldn’t let me buy a prelit artificial tree yet never had more than 47 minutes to devote to erecting or dismantling a fresh tree, because you know — sports.
Things could be worse. I was once baking Christmas cookies with a few neighbors including Irma, a sweet, grandmotherly type. Irma explained how, for years, her husband had insisted she go pick out a fresh tree, erect it in the stand and then he’d decide if it was good enough to keep. If it wasn’t, she’d have to return it to the tree lot and get another one.
Then, with her sweet Betty White voice and sparkly eyes, Irma said: “You know what? I finally realized I was married to a Christmas ---hole.”
And when I reminded Sarah of our conversation recently, she admitted that she and her husband had so much difficulty getting their pre-lit artificial tree back into its box last year that she left the house for packing tape and some space.
I’m starting to think that real or faux, Christmas trees set a lot of people on edge.
One Christmas, about nine years ago, I asked myself why I would continue doing something that made me angry at the person I love most — my otherwise sweet and thoughtful husband. Christmas should be more about peace and love than how you decorate your house. Right?
That’s when I decided to stop putting up a tree.
I still decorate for the holidays. A couple of weeks ago, I draped fresh pine garlands over the living room mantel and sideboards, the dining room table and the front door. I lit them with strings of lights, perched several big metal reindeer among them and voila! I was finished in less than an hour.
It’s sparkly, elegant, festive and smells wonderful. Vahe loves it and so do I. Best of all it will take less than 30 minutes to disassemble and it keeps the peace.