the decorations of Christmas

Today kniedzw picked up at the farmers’ market something that could pass for Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. It’s perfect for our purposes, though; we’re flying to Dallas on Saturday, and weren’t organized enough to get a tree sooner, so it doesn’t make sense to drop lots of cash on anything big. And it’s cute.

Real trees are weird to me, though. My parents eventually figured out that maybe there was a reason their asthmatic son kept landing in the hospital around Christmas, so it’s been a fake tree for as long as I can remember. Which does have some advantages; I don’t want to know how much you’d have to pay for a real ten-foot tree that’s even half so bushy and full. But anyway, while fake trees are the order of business in my mind, I do not object to the real ones. Artificiality of greenery is not a requirement in my holiday.

What is apparently a requirement, judging by the smile with which I greeted it this year, is woven straw. It’s a very Scandinavian thing, I think, though it pops up in other cultures. My family recently retired one of our sadder mobiles in favor of something less worn-out, but I adopted the old one, so now I have some straw angels and hearts hanging in my entryway, and a little straw angel ornament on the tree. Like winter soup, this is something inherited from my mother. (My father’s influence will show up elsewhere.)

In general, though, our ornamentation — especially on the tree — is eclectic with a vengeance. We do not have a designer tree. We have keychains and necklace pendants from all around the world, souvenirs brought home to double as tree jewelry. We have Buddhist prayer ornaments.

We have a two-inch piece of split copper pipe inscribed with the date “December 25th, 1989.”

This one has a story. 1989, Dallas did one of its sporadic freezes, like it does. I think the high on Christmas Eve was maybe in the 20s. The day after Christmas, we were scheduled to get on a plane and fly to the British Virgin Islands for a sailing trip. Christmas Day . . . Christmas Day warmed up into the 40s or so. And some time after we opened presents, my mother wandered back into the master bath and felt the carpet go squish.

You know where this is going.

My grandparents were visiting that year, as I recall, so my father and grandfather went out back and started bashing away at the wall. They were lucky; the first brick they took out was directly over the broken bit of pipe. Then they noticed that, having taken a brick out, they were looking right at the pipe! . . . yeah, the layer cake of the wall went outside-bricks-pipes-insulation-inside. Brilliant construction, that. Anyway, they fixed the pipe — my memory insists that the “Hallelujah” chorus came on the CD shuffle when they came in to announce it was done — and the pipe piece wound up on the tree as an ornament. One year somebody stole it off and got it engraved, and it has occupied a position of pride ever since. This has become a family conversation piece to the point that this year, when my brother announced that he and his fiancee had bought a tree (a real one; here’s hoping his lungs don’t collapse) and were inviting people to bring ornaments, I went to Home Depot and bought him a piece of copper pipe.

(Actually, I bought a longer piece and hacked off a chunk for him, a chunk for me. My own copper pipe is currently serving as a tree topper, since we don’t have an angel or star.)

I love having a decorated house for Christmas. The density of decoration has gotten a little ridiculous at home — we’re pretty sure our ornaments sit up in the attic all year and breed — but I love the greenery, the red and silver and gold, the way the house puts on a different dress for a little while. The decorations are really the source of my conviction that the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving: once my brother and I went away to college, we got in the habit of putting everything up while we were home for break. Christmas ends (of course) on Epiphany, not because I’m Catholic but because I need some kind of landmark to end on, and New Year’s is too soon. Anyway, these things — garlands, ornaments of woven straw, all that good stuff — are special because they only get brought out for a little while. As much as I love them, I wouldn’t want them around all the time, because then they would cease to be special.

0 Responses to “the decorations of Christmas”

  1. querldox

    Heck, you could’ve gotten an actual Charlie Brown Pathetic Tree.

  2. mrissa

    My grandmother has given away all of her ornaments except the woven straw and the red wood. Nobody can decide whether this looks “designer” or not, since these ornaments are mostly over 20 years old and some of them over 60 (so does that make them fancy antiques or shabby old stuff?), but it looks awesome either way–especially since Mom and Dad and we have the more eclectic stuff on our trees.

    • Marie Brennan

      That does sound awesome. I could be okay with an aesthetically coherent tree, if it came about in that manner. Especially since straw and redwood look really nice, I imagine.

  3. celestineangel

    This is lovely, and quite interesting to read from the PoV of someone who really doesn’t have much in the way of cultural influences on their holidays. We are mutts, with far too many unknown heritages to keep track of; and my mother and uncle couldn’t care less, anyway. Also, our house has been rather bare of decorations for years, since I had the bad taste to grow up.

    However, there will come a day when I am capable of financial independence (oh please gods, let that be soon), and on that day I will be free to decorate my place for any and all holidays I wish (even Arbor Day, if I feel like it).

    • Marie Brennan

      Also, our house has been rather bare of decorations for years, since I had the bad taste to grow up.

      Given my feelings about decorations, this strikes me as a profound tragedy. 🙁

      May the day when you can decorate your own place come soon!

  4. diatryma

    I’m at a point in my life where I don’t decorate for my own holidays because I’m going family-home for all of them. No Christmas lights, no tree– no reason to mess with them.

    My dad had Christmas Mouse for a while. When he was younger, his family dug out all the ornaments and found a dead mouse in the box, desiccated. Being a Krahe, he put it in an ornament that had cotton in it, sort of like a bed, and hung it on the tree. We inherited Christmas Mouse, but something got into our ornament box and ate all the soft tissue, leaving a perfectly articulated mouse skeleton on cotton fluff in a cagey ornament. He took it in to school eventually, where entropy and students took their toll.
    Now he puts dog toys in the tree whenever possible.

    Our tallest tree was somewhere between sixteen and twenty-two feet; estimates tend higher, but since we never measured it, all we can say is that it topped the beam in the two-story great room. Spoiled us; we didn’t need to thin the ornaments at all for a few years.

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