Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Undecorated Christmas Tree in the Room

Thanksgiving weekend, Mike and I went and picked up a Christmas tree in a parking lot in Jersey. We were quick, matter-of-fact, and on our way to a post-Thanksgiving, post-family party where they were deep-frying a turkey as well as everything else under the sun. We kept the tree in the truck while we gorged on an amazing spread, fancy Brooklyn beer we brought, and the best thing of the night- fried Oreos. (Yes, I still eat like I am ten years old) The salty-sweet smell of the fried Oreos reminded me of the boardwalk at the Jersey shore, and I got nostalgic for summer and warm weather and swimming and sunshine. But alas, here we are and it is already holiday season. We got home late that night and didn't want to haul the tree up since it still needed to be cut so we left it in the garage overnight. In the morning, Mike cut it, brought it home and we stood it in the tree stand with water. I had developed a cold overnight probably brought on by an allergy attack triggered by those damn cats at the party the night before. But we didn't decorate the tree. I was sick, Mike was tired, football was on. We said we would do it later in the week when we could really make a date of it.

Over two weeks have now passed and the tree still stands in the corner, gorgeous and full as ever without a light or ornament on it. I don't even really notice it when I come home from work or pass it in the morning. The only time I even remember it is there is when the radiator kicks on and opens up the evergreen scent. I have been sick, I've been busy, I've been dealing with some hard-core anxiety, but mostly, I think I just don't want to decorate it. I don't want to crack into that bin of small ornaments that Mike and I have collected or made over the last four years. This will be our fifth Christmas together and while I'm thrilled to have reached that landmark, there is a Christmas season blues that has “a-come” this year, more profound than years past. Every year I get a little blue, even when things are GREAT I get a little blue. It is something in my bones, a feeling of anxiety, loss, grief, triggered at any moment by an unsuspecting Christmas Carol or droopy lights on a home or the sight of a decorated Christmas tree. There were so many sad Christmases and then so many silent Christmases where we danced around the phone wondering if my mom would call or not. I know now that she was in her own world of pain and there were definitely Christmases where she did reach out and I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. Everything made me sick to my stomach. If the phone rang, I panicked and if it didn’t ring, I got angry. And if I actually talked to her, inevitably, the day would end up in tears somewhere or an explosive fight with my brother. We ping-ponged our emotions off each other.

Now, it wasn't all bad. Christmas Eve was always a blast because my Dad’s gigantic family (oldest of 8) would get together and my brother and I could lose ourselves in hanging out with our cousins. But Christmas morning was always tough.  Before my mom left, Christmas morning was usually spent at her parents’ house, my grandparents's house. We’d open gifts there and have Christmas dinner. When we’d come to the table there would be an English Christmas cracker on our plate. We would all open them at the same time and wear are funny paper hats and play with our Chinese handcuffs while eating turkey and stuffing. Every year, my grandmother would put walnuts in the stuffing and every year my Dad would remind her he was allergic to walnuts. There was once so much joy and there still is so much joy, but like my birthday, there is an energy still connected no matter how hard I try to drown it in peppermint hot chocolate and Christmas shopping, sometimes I just hate the holidays.

I kind of love my undecorated Christmas tree because it is just what it is. The smell is enough of a reminder of what time of year it is but I don’t know that I need all the bells and whistles. Maybe by not decorating it, I can start my own tradition.  Like a blank canvas, a clean slate, a different kind of Christmas spirit, one that is honest and real, and admires the beauty of something for what it is without all the shitty stuff from Target dripping off of it. (I actually love Target, but you get my point). Maybe this simple tree in the corner will remind me what this time of year is supposed to be about – joy, giving, love. Maybe I can detach it from years past? Detach it even from family Christmases of years past? But how do you scrub your bones?
I am going to leave my tree as is, until Mike probably makes me decorate it with him. But I like that it just is. Just like I am, in all my sadness and nostalgia and anticipation and joy, as well. Like I said, it wasn’t always sad. There was always joy, too. Maybe the holidays are just intrinsically both sad and joyous, one could not be without the other, like life.  

4 comments:

SteveB said...

When you become an adult, I think the holidays are definitely a time mixed with joy and a sort of bittersweet reflection. Remembering family and friends that have died, or relationships that have died, and how it had been before. It's not necessarily a bad thing.

When I was little, my family used to get a tree a week or two before Christmas and it would stand bare until Christmas Eve. When I was little, my parents would decorate it while we were sleeping (how? I don't know!) and when I was older, we did it together.

Thanks for spurring a great memory.

Carmen said...

i like hearing about that memeory from steve b!

we had a funny time setting up our tree this year too. it sat outside our house for a week because i bought it as erk was doing the floors and we had to wait for them to dry ..i got a tree that was bigger than i wanted (the place i went to didn;t have any smaller) and it ended up not even fitting into the stand when the time came to put it in the house. eli and i took turns sawing pieces off to widdle it down enough. he got so frustrated at one point that he threw the tree (we were outside, but still...) it was a dramatic process but we finally got that sucker up.
unfortunately the polyurthane smell overpowers the tree's and i can't smell that beautiful pine :( but it looks nice! just lights on it, and just the tree in that room. nothing else yet.

Lindsey said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts and memories. Steve B, I love that they waited to decorate the tree. Kind of magical to wake up to something like that. Carmen someone was videotaping Eli throwing the tree.

Courtney said...

This definitely hits close to home and I totally identify with the pain, and the joy. I decorate our fake (booo) tree by myself because Jagga doesn't have the traditions of decorating like I do. Its sad to do that alone but I like to wallow in it a little, without that inherent sadness it wouldn't be the holidays.