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.