I have sometimes heard of a couple, married for many years, who suddenly divorces, and I’ve wondered how that could happen. But each late November or early December reminds me: it was probably the Christmas tree. I confess that I think they look pretty. I like having one in the house at Christmas. But they are so difficult to set up and decorate–and doing so involves so much tension–that I have yet to understand why anyone has a Christmas tree.
For years I insisted on the real thing. I didn’t much want a tree at all, but if we were going to have one, it was going to be real. I felt about fake Christmas trees in a home the same way I feel about plastic or silk flowers in the temple: I can’t put my finger on why, but it seems to border on sacrilege. However after years of looking all over town for just the right tree, digging the saw out of the tools in the garage to cut off the end of the trunk, trying to rebore the hole and never having the right sized bit (though I have purchased several), fighting the thing into the house and its stand, jury rigging something to make it stand straight, and then, after several hours of swearing under my breath facing the task of making sure that each limb of the tree has its own string of 50 lights on it, I began suggesting that some fake trees don’t look so bad after all. And even if the fake tree is made of plastic, it is recycled plastic, saving both fossilized fuel and trees. Plus, the better ones come with the lights already strung on the branches. How could I go wrong?
The answer is, “By continuing to have a Christmas tree.” We started to put the tree up today at about 11:00 in the morning. At 8:00 p.m. it still isn’t finished, but I’ve done my part and we’ve agreed to put off the rest until tomorrow, after we’ve both had some rest. Janice had the brilliant idea (and I’m not being sarcastic) of putting a few rows of branches on at a time, and decorating as we added branches. That made it easier to decorate the whole tree. No one had to stand at the bottom of the tree, three feet from the trunk, and figure out how to reach the top of the tree to place the star on without tipping over the ladder. However, as brilliant as the idea was, it had a huge drawback: I couldn’t finish and then leave her to decorate. Instead, I had to do a piece, wait for her to decorate, put on another layer of branches (which means checking all of the bulbs and figuring out why, though there is a bulb in every socket, half of some strings simply don’t light), and then wait for her to decorate that section. Of course, the new tree didn’t really solve the problem I had hoped most to solve, namely stringing the lights. Those branches where the lights no longer functioned still had to be strung, and that meant going to several stores to find short strands of lights.
But because Janice will not be dissuaded from having a tree, we will continue to do this until I die or become sufficiently disabled that she can force the children to come over and do it. When we were on leave in Belgium and then again in France, we cut a tree out of sheets of construction paper and taped it to the wall, decorating it with equally one-dimensional ornaments and making paper-chain garland for it. When she talks about those trees, she tells people that they were some of the best we have ever had. They are part of the romance of those two, very nice Christmases. In spite of that, she thinks my suggestion of a construction paper tree this year can’t be serious. “What would the grandchildren think?” I think they wouldn’t think a thing: they have a tree, we have a cut-out, what’s new about Grandpa and Grandma doing things differently? Heck, they may even want one for themselves.
So, though people who know us often wonder why Janice has stuck with me all these years–and though I wonder myself on occasion–this is the time of year when I realize that she’s not the only one who is sacrificing for the relation.