Growing up in New Hampshire, my family always had a Christmas tree. We decorated the heck out of it: store-bought ornaments, homemade ornaments, tinsel, lights, angels, handmade (and slightly bloody) popcorn-and-cranberry garlands we made together at the kitchen table.
It was an annual ceremony in my family.
I adored everything about the tree: shopping for it (felt like adopting a pet), decorating it, and just looking at it while a fire crackled in the fireplace and Linda Ronstadt lit up the record player. I didn’t even mind removing the 1,000 ornaments and vacuuming up the millions of pine needles afterward. Everything about the tree was THAT awesome.
So when I started dating my boyfriend Tom, who had a 9-year-old son named Connor, it was a fait accompli that we’d get a Christmas tree.
Religion aside, it was tradition, and we were ready to establish our own family ritual.
Determined, we marched to Target and bought a nice (fake) tree, as well as some very pretty Christmas ball ornaments. And on the evening Connor’s school broke for the holidays, we got out the tree and decorations, Tom streamed some Mannheim Steamroller, and the three of us spent a couple hours draping the branches with shiny stuff.
But you know what?
Assembling and decorating that tree was a lot of work.
I didn’t remember it taking so long when I was a kid! How did my mom and dad do it? Where’d they find the time?
The other day I asked my sister if she remembered whether Mum and Dad put all that effort into our annual Christmas tree for our sakes, or for their own.
“Oh, Mum loves Christmas decorations,” she said. “And I think Dad liked them too. Remember how, after we brought it home, he’d put the tree in a bucket of water and lean it against the garage? I’m not sure why he did that; it always froze. But anyway, the tree always seemed like something he enjoyed.”
Conclusion: My parents (my mom, anyway) actually LIKED putting up and decorating the Christmas tree.
However, after that first Christmas with Tom and Connor, I realized that I, unfortunately, did not inherit that gene.
We limped through a second Christmas much like the first for the sake of The Boy. But on that third Christmas, when Connor turned 11 and asked us, “When are we putting up the Christmas tree?” Tom and I just looked at each other.
“Hey, Buddy,” Tom ventured. “We were thinking … what if … we didn’t do a tree this year? And spent that time … doing … something … else?”
Perhaps this sounds bad to you. But all that assembling, detangling, unpacking and unassembling, retangling, and repacking is SO MUCH WORK.
After working long days, on top of long commutes, we were tired.
And Connor wasn’t exactly that interested in all the time involved in putting up and taking down a tree, not when Xbox and Legos were available.
“How about this … what if we … watch a movie together?”
Score! The Boy was satisfied. Presents were still wrapped and stacked, and photos were still snapped during the present-opening process, but there was … just … no actual tree in the room to witness the festivities.
So our photos went from Cher on a reunion tour to this:
And evolved into this:
Now The Boy is 14 and he just wants money for video games and in-game purchases. Nothing to wrap. Nothing to stack. And therefore, no need for a tree in the room. Right?
We can just spend that quality family time together in a different way?
Perhaps with an extra-special meal or a day trip to someplace fun?