You know you may have scarred your children when they refer to decorating the Christmas tree as a pejorative.
For example, if something unpleasant has happened they might describe it as “bad, but not decorating-the-Christmas-tree bad.”
It’s all because I have an illness. Really, more of a yuletide-related disorder. And this disorder, as most disorders do, relates to my childhood.
My mother was a florist and decorated people’s homes for the holidays. Her pièce de résistance was the Christmas tree. She was renowned for her ability to turn a simple evergreen into a work of art.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
One of the ways she showcased her talent was to throw a huge Christmas Eve party where the star of the show was the tree. Some years we had trees so large that my father had to install guide wires and drill metal hooks into the wall to hold the evergreen beast in place. This excessive dedication and devotion (i.e. mental illness; subcategory — addiction and OCD) to finding and decorating the perfect tree leached into my very soul. Every year I’m possessed with what my husband (not a medical professional) describes as a case of the “Christmas tree crazies.”
The addiction flares up when the fresh trees start getting delivered. I’m on a mission to find the tree that still has its saw scars. Last week, I hit the tannenbaum trifecta when I spied a truck at Whole Foods unloading trees that all passed my rigorous three-part sniff and needle test. For the uninitiated, the sniff test requires that the tree have a robust bouquet of pungent pine aroma with some subtle undertones of sweet sap and a slight but rich loamy soil finish.
I immediately called my husband and told him it was “go time!” He knew exactly what I meant. It’s not like we haven’t trained for this. As soon as mid-November rolls around, he keeps supplies in his car and is ready at a moment’s notice for “the call.”
Back in the day we would do the whole family thing and make it an outing to find a Christmas tree. But we had to abandon that Hallmark moment when I would make the kids cry. Seriously, I couldn’t help myself. They have the worst taste in trees. You would have thought they were Charlie Brown. They always gravitated towards the evergreen underachiever. I blame my husband for their lackluster judgment regarding the Abies fraseri (Frasier fir) because they obviously got some substandard tree gene from his family.
It gets worse when it comes to decorating the tree. They’re all tree slackers. One does not haphazardly place lights and ornaments on a tree in an effort to “just get it done.”
Oh, no, there must be a tree story. You’re creating a visual imprint for the holidays.
It all starts with the lights. You must exceed 1,000 lights and you start this journey by first wrapping the deep interior of the tree with luminescence using the gentlest of hands, or as my mother would say, “you approach the tree as if fairies lived there,” then and only then do you work your way out toward the branches.
As for hanging decorations, no metal ornament hooks are allowed. What are we, animals without opposable thumbs? Each ornament is tied on a tree branch with a satin ribbon.
This tree process is so labor intensive that it makes me cry almost every year. In fact, my family is still recovering from the tree trauma of 2005. I had spent h-o-u-r-s decorating the tree. My kids were still little so I let them “help” and by that I mean having them put ornaments on the tree and then moving them later. Just as I was ready to share the wonder and glory of my creation, every single, freaking, light went out. My husband was called in for illumination life support, but nothing we did could get the lights to come back on. My only solution was to take all the decorations and lights off the tree and start over!
It was then that my children learned what the ugly cry is. I wailed! I’m sure a woman having a water birth in a pedicure tub at a nail salon located inside a Wal-Mart would have made less noise. My husband, no doubt fearing for his and the children’s safety, quickly left the house under the guise of getting me new lights. I was left alone with my holiday spirit broken, weeping on my living room floor with the unlit Christmas tree casting a shadow of gloomy mockery on my pain.
It took until 2 o’clock in the morning for me to “redo” that tree. But I did it. I persevered because you can’t quit crazy. Especially not Christmas crazy.