Commentary: Christmas trees and other humbug

The Rock Hill HeraldDecember 24, 2012 

At this writing, the Christmas tree in our living room is standing.

That may not sound like news to some, but that’s only because they weren’t around a week ago to see me holding up the 10-foot evergreen behemoth, yelling at my wife who was on the telephone calling a friend to come help.

Two days later, after I removed all the ornaments, garlands and lights, and tied it to the wall with enough monofilament line to land Ahab’s whale, the monster was stabilized.

Depending on where you stand, the fishing line either is invisible or looks like the scene where Gulliver was strapped down by the Lilliputians.

What’s frustrating about this annual ordeal is that I don’t know whom to curse: The Druids, who first decided gods resided in trees and needed appeasement, or Charles Dickens, who set the tone for Christmas ever since.

Ironically, even a majority of decorations are manufactured in parts of the world where the work force is more likely to be Muslim or Buddhist than Christian, most have a distinctively Victorian flavor.

I’m pretty sure that neither the early Christians nor the Savior they worshiped had anything to do with Christmas trees.

“We don’t need to put up a tree every Christmas,” I brazenly told my wife. “There weren’t any trees decorated in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.”

“Of course, not,” she said. “His parents were Jewish.”

Who can argue with logic like that?

After nearly 45 years of the annual ritual (I had a small tree in my bachelor officer’s quarters in South Vietnam in 1969), I have discerned several interesting phenomena about decorating Christmas trees. For instance:

Decorating the tree is Dad’s job by default. Our daughters have been living on their own for several years, but even when they were little, they managed to dodge this ritual. Bake cookies with Mom? Sure. Wrap presents? No problem. But the minute Dad dragged Christmas decorations from the attic, my children became scarcer than reindeer.

“It’s because you are such a perfectionist, Dear,” my wife said. “They don’t want to cloud your vision.”

The aesthetic value of a Christmas ornament is inversely proportional to its longevity. In other words, the breathtakingly beautiful, overpriced ornaments are quick to elude your grasp and smash themselves to smithereens on the floor. Drop an ugly ornament, and it will bounce.

Such indestructibility occasionally can be a blessing. We have one ornament that began life as a Depression-era Christmas tree light. My mother explained that as newlyweds, she and my father couldn’t afford many decorations, so when the hand-painted glass bulb burned out, they tied it on a string and hung it on the tree.

Moderation has its place, but tacky takes the fruitcake nine out of 10 times. We ooh and ahh over friends’ trees that are tastefully adorned with white lights and silver or gold ornaments. Meanwhile, ours looks like someone hid a bomb in a box of Crayolas and set it off in a costume jewelry factory.

Themed trees are a sign of a limited imagination. We know people who confine their tree decorations to angels or such. One woman, a diehard Republican, won’t allow anything on her tree that doesn’t involve an elephant. (I offered her a deal on some “I Love Mitt” ornaments; she didn’t laugh.)

Our tree, on the other hand, is multi-themed. In addition to ornaments representing every college to which we’ve ever sent a tuition check, we have ones featuring fairy tales, Star Wars movies, Harry Potter, the principal food groups (plus pizza) and large mammals from four continents. Some represent other holidays, although I must admit I don’t know why anyone needs a jack-o-lantern ornament.

Tree decorating causes more marriages to break up than any other factor except adultery and squabbles over money. A frequently overheard saying at this time of year is, “If your marriage can survive decorating the tree, everything else is manageable.” That may be true, but the quickest route to divorce court is for one spouse to spend the day decorating the tree and the other to come home and say, “I see a spot you missed.”

Email former Herald Editor Terry Plumb at terry.plumb@gmail.com.

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