The Saint Nicholas Tree
After ten years in America, I still can't go along with bringing a Christmas tree into the house before the middle of December. As you are taking your chances to score a real tree after mid-month, my cultural non-compliance introduces a note of suspense to what would otherwise be a predictable and secure holiday season for the children. In recent years, we have staked our claim by driving to a local tree farm around Thanksgiving, tagging and paying for our tree, and going back nearer to Christmas for harvesting and hauling it home.
This year that just sounds like a lot of driving.
A service station around the corner is selling cut trees. I was thinking we might get one, prop it up in the wooded park near our house and take the kids in there to "find" it. Making memories founded on cultural and parental deceptions. That's the Christmas spirit.
I confess I gain a little more appreciation each year for people whose pre-lit, artifical trees will never touch a roof rack. But anytime I reach out to finger the lifelike tip of one, I hear my father's voice in my head, pronouncing, "Fake tree, fake Christmas!" and I pull my hand back like a two-year-old touching fire. Besides, I would feel bad about depriving my children of the more colorful sounds of the season: their father swearing over missing rope, burned out lights, and teetering tree stands. Far be it from me to break the chain.
Still, the two older boys get anxious when all the halls and all the trees in the world seem decked and trimmed but ours. I remember this feeling. My childhood home had no fireplace. I was extremely concerned that this was not up to code. Even after my parents explained that Santa could just as easily use the front door, I wasn't entirely convinced there wouldn't be some sort of penalty imposed; items crossed from my list. I knew it was unorthodox to nail your stocking to the plywood stereo stand.
To tide them over, we have the St. Nicholas Tree, a tabletop artificial tree that lives in the attic and comes out on December 6th, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. I brought it down to their bedroom after bathtime tonight. They were so excited, opening their boxes of ornaments, stringing the lights. This is their tree, and I keep my mitts off it, no matter how clumped together all the red balls are or how big the hole in the lights is. This is where they get to hang all the ornaments that come from the fast food places, the plastic tv characters that I prefer to leave off the big tree. It's where the chintzier items that have been handed down from Patrick's family find a home. A dollar-store set of china nativity figurines--with pasty white complexions and painted-on eyelashes that resemble Tammy Faye Baker's--takes shelter under its boughs.
They arrange it, and rearrange it, a hundred times between St. Nick's Day and Christmas, and I let them keep the multicolored lights on until after they are asleep each night. No tasteful monotone schemes here. When I go in later to pull the plug, their sleeping faces are still turned toward their rainbow constellation and I watch them a long minute, nestled all snug in their beds.