We always got a balsam fir for Christmas, because Daddy thought those smelled the best, but even if we picked it up early, he leaned it up against the back porch to keep it cold and fresh until we put it up, which was never early. My parents were firm believers in moderation in all things, even though in some things, like swearing and spending money just because, they were more abstinent than moderate. It could have been put down to a Depression mentality at work, but I now believe that my father was a Wise Man who fully understood the damage that excess and extravagance can do to a kid and her ability to be joyful. So when the tree did come indoors, it was well freighted with anticipation. There was a routine. Daddy was in charge of making the thing stand upright, which took a lot of frowning and dagnabbiting, and then the light strings were laid out on the floor. There would be that moment of hope just before they were plugged in, dashed annually–another tradition–and then we’d unscrew the bulbs one by one until we found and replaced the culprit. Ornaments would be hung by all and later redistributed higher on the tree, and then we draped the tinsel on. Ours was a wrinkly tinsel family. The tinsel was gleaned and packed away every year. Dad put one modest string of light bulbs out on the porch and one modest electric candle in the window, and that was that. Every year I lobbied hard for extra lights, with the same result as I got begging for a dog or a house with a rec room. I didn’t even know they made unwrinkly tinsel.
But our modest tree filled the bill for joy every year. Overdoing it would not have increased it. In fact, when it comes to joy, you get less bang for every successive buck, which I did not learn for a while. Christmas is famously for the children, and I was the last child, the one my mom charitably referred to as a “surprise,” showing up at a time my folks might have preferred grandbabies. “You’re what’s keeping me young,” Mom would tell me, although the exact opposite case could have been made, especially during my teenage years, but I took the charge seriously, and every year I mustered as much enthusiasm as I could credibly pull off. But each passing Christmas pushes us further away from our childhood, no matter how we try to hold on. Mom and Dad were faithful to our little traditions and that helped. That’s why the first Christmas away from home has the potential for bleakness.
I got lucky. I spend my first Christmas away from home in Bavaria with friends, and there were stars and snow and castles and picturesque tipsy Germans and goose for dinner. We were studying abroad, and none of us roommates had much money, so we decorated our one house plant and bought each other as many presents as we could manage without spending more than £2.50 all told. It was challenging and very, very fun, something that acquiring more money allows one to unlearn.
The next Christmas on my own was spent at a boyfriend’s house and was a riot of excess. I’d never seen more gifts in my life, and that part seemed good, but we opened them on Christmas Eve, which was so wrong: abandoning Santa snaps the final bond. But you get over it.
When Dave and I moved in together, we got our first tree, without a lot to hang on it. Each year the tree got a little bigger and more crowded. One year I asked Dave if we could fit a grand piano in the house. He eyed a bearing wall thoughtfully and allowed as how we probably could if we had to. Oh goody, I said, because I just bought one. That Christmas I scavenged a large windblown branch from a fir tree and Dave stapled it flat to the wall that he now had to take down. He stapled harder and louder than might have been strictly necessary. We bought each other flat presents to lean up against the wall: books, record albums.
But Dave was often gone for holidays, working a shut-down boiler at a mill out of town. One year I bought a one-foot plastic tree and decorated it with tiny plastic hard-hats and a small cement mixer for the star, and I wrapped about twenty one-dollar items for him and his crew and mailed it all off. They had to guess which presents to pick. There was an airplane bottle of Jack Daniels and a similarly-shaped bottle of hair goo. There was a rolled-up porno magazine and another rolled-up Woman’s Day. It was the most fun I’d had buying presents since Bavaria.
Other than that year, every Christmas tree went up about the same way Dad’s did, only Dave had a more emphatic vocabulary. Pootie showed up at Christmas in 1989. It was no accident. He no doubt had a scouting report that confirmed we had no spawn that might dilute our attention, and he moved in and began arranging things to his liking right off the bat. Pootie is, technically, a stuffed dog, and the fact that he generally gets his own way around here is a sign that we were wise not to have children. Pootie indicated he needed his own tree–fine, whatev–so one year we got him a small one, and he jammed it full of tasteful ornaments. His taste, sadly. There were basketball players and ceramic jock straps and a skinny Gumby-Santa and M&M lights and a star so garish that the nativity story had to be rewritten with the little lord Jesus’s manger set up at a strip mall, attended by the Three Car Salesmen and a flock of possums. It’s da Tannenbomb. Our own tree got smaller and smaller through the years and Pootie’s got bigger until now all we get is Pootie’s tree, and we don’t have one at all. Because nobody wants to see what happens if the Poot doesn’t have his Christmas.
After all, Christmas is for the children.
A very wonderful Christmas story with lessons for all. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Some very important Christmas lessons there…..
Nobody would settle for a regular ol' Christmas story, if they'd heard of this one.
I believe there's a gene–possibly a bioluminescent one–for having a fabulous time without spending and I didn't get it. Two generations of it jumped right over me and landed on my daughter, who's so drenched in it she glows. You're clearly a rich repository for it, too, and we are all so lucky to stand in its light.
Kisses to Dave and to Pootie. Do not let them drink and drive this holiday season, 'cause you guys are family now.
Holiday stories are endlessly fascinating to me. I think your dad was the same generation as mine. They did not want to spoil children by over indulging them. I fear that philosophy has been lost.
We celebrate Christmas, but not for religious reasons. It is just a tradition that we grew up enjoying. The tradition of putting up trees is interesting because it seems that as people get older, it ceases to have the great importance that it had when we were younger. We have not put up a tree in many years, but the grandchildren seem to expect it. Rather than do a great philosophical discussion they won't understand, we put up a little one. I put up fewer decorations each year, mostly the ones I made years ago. I'm happy to go to the kids for the holiday. We love to see the little ones entertained and happy. I'm happy to enjoy all the new friends I've met this year. Enjoy your holiday.
When I was a kid we always had a tree, but I didn't inherit any of my parent's ornaments. My five siblings knew I wasn't to be trusted with them. As an adult I've never once put up a tree, but I did hang some green yarn on the wall once and decorated it with those round corn pads. My son loved it, but he was only six and didn't know better.
Merry Christmas to you, Dave, and Pootie. I love his tree, and I was amazed at how perfectly straight your childhood tinsel hung. Never like that at my house! 🙂
Great story!!!! Merry Christmas to all!!!!
Wish I'd have known about the ceramic jock strap earlier – that would have been the perfect gift for my office Xmas party.
Merry holidays, Murr! You've given me so many smiles this year!
Fresh Christmas trees have gotten to be an expensive luxury. I've settled for a little monofilament tree that I got at Menard's years ago. It fills the bill and the cats don't bother it. In years past, I had many a tree toppled by cats who didn't quite understand the purpose of it.
When we got our first /tv, we had an aerial on a pole about 60 feet high. The first Christmas we had it, Dad built a star out of one by twos , wrapped it wits two strings of lights, plugged in a dozen extension cords, and winched that sucker right UP there. The first night he lit it up, half the neighbors headed for their bomb shelters, and the other half called the police to report a flying saucer. (Except for one family who spent the night on their knees in anticipation of the second coming. It warfront page news in our local paper Dad LIKE Christmas lights!
My first Christmas spent away from home was in Germany as well. Only, it was in a military barracks with no decorations at all. The ones following, for the next two years, were at German friend's homes and their understated celebration, focused on family and friendship, stuck with me for the rest of my life. I hate commercial Christmas but I'm buried alive in it as my daughters and granddaughters are totally in.
Oh well, there's always the spiked eggnog.
Have a cool one Brewster. It's been my great pleasure to become acquainted with you and your wonderful stories.
This brings back memories of my mom and her tinsel. I do believe she had the same red tri-fold package of tinsel until I moved out. There was a certain knack to getting the tinsel to lay back down in the package just so. Sadly, I never managed to get it right, so I never had to de-tinsel the tree.
Now Mr. Boom on the other hand, the first Christmas I knew him, "killed a tree for Christ" and hung it upside down from the ceiling. I knew right then that the boy wasn't right in the head. That was some 25 years ago. Now HE'S the one who spends hours dragging us through the woods looking for the perfect tree.
There never has been and there never will be a single strand of tinsel, re-used or otherwise, on any tree of ours!
Our tree was always a cheap little Charlie-Brown spruce because we were in the middle of the Manitoba praire, and that's what got delivered to the small-town post office.
Unbeknownst to us kids, Dad would sneak off to town and buy a tree as soon as they came in, and then hide it outside somewhere to keep it fresh. We whipped ourselves into a frenzy begging for a tree, and finally, FINALLY, he'd bring it in. Then there was another interminable day-long wait for the tree to "open up" in its stand before we were allowed to decorate it.
The lights were never a problem, but the star was a bugbear. Every year, Dad patiently got it working again (without even any dagnabbiting – I think my Dad may have been a saint).
And ah, the salvaged tinsel. Every year, we removed EVERY SINGLE STRAND and carefully placed it back in the package, ready for next year.
So many good memories – thanks for bringing them back. Merry Christmas. Hope Pootie gets everything he wants. 🙂
Wonderful Christmas tale! Pootie rules! :o)
Have a fabulous Christmas!!!
They make unwrinkly tinsel?
Ah, the tinsel! The challenge was, once it broke, to decide whether the pieces were long enough to hang. Fortunately, my mother was the tinsel expert – she had little tolerance for clumps.
Merry Christmas to you!
Merry Christmas, you. Thanks for a lovely year!
Baby Jesus born in a strip mall and brought gifts by the Three Car Salesmen? Pootie must have been reading one of those newer translations of the Bible.
Merry Christmas, Murr.
Our Christmas Tradition was driving round on Christmas Eve to look at the trees in other people's windows and to admire the lights. And I still sometimes do it. Wonderful post – and I hope you and yours have a lovely consumer minimalist Christmas.
Tannenbomb. Love it! It's a good thing that Pootie is in charge of Christmas. We usually decorate a moose antler.
Merry Christmas! and thanks for your wise and witty posts through the year. The crinkly tinsel takes me back too: of course it should be saved from year to year, but there was also lead in that tinsel, or? which enhanced the crinkliness but also the hang. Hope that stuffed dog appreciates who's looking after him.
Best wishes, also for the New Year…
I have a friend who grew up with a single mom parent and 1 sister. She tells that a tree of any kind was such a luxury that they threw light around a baby's high chair and put gifts on an around that. To this day, they have a Christmas chair. Thanks for reminding me about icicles! We fought with Mom who tried to get them straight, while we threw them at the tree, Merry one, all
I think our best Christmas was the one we were really broke. I bought the kids used record players, used books, and made them Paddington Bears.
I find all the excesses of Christmas mostly depressing. Thanks for the memories of what Christmas really is all about.
Great stories, Murr. Have a wonderful holiday.
Love the Pootie tree and the memories. We are about the same vintage so this was wonderfully familiar, including the eternal re-use of tinsel. Have a merry day!
Thanks for a truly Christmas story. I was raised a Foreign Service brat in the 50's & early 60's, which meant that my Mom packed up our odd but precious ornaments every year, not sure where they might be shipped. Somehow, they always emerged unscathed in Spain, Hungary, or East Africa. They were festive comfort food. Thankfully, though, "ceramic jock straps" weren't part of her repertoire.
We always had a real tree and the first years it was tall. The ceiling was about 20 ft high so dad had a tree about 10-12 ft tall (thought I swore it was taller, being so short then). He would stand on a ladder to decorate most of it and mom and we 4 kids did what we could reach, getting higher each year. Eventually when we were all 8th grade and up our tree shrunk to 7 ft tall.
I thought I was the only person who saved Christmas tinsel!!!! I recycle it year to year.
My mother usually insisted on a "flocked" tree, it was more modern by her thinking, and her thinking always revolved around style competition with the neighbors. The worst one was a tree thickly (as in not the slightest hint of green peeked through) flocked with PINK flocking and uniformly sized red ornaments. No lights, that would be too bourgeois. It was essentially a a rough pink cone with red balls on it. It was the most disappointing tree we ever had.
Mom didn't do that again… the garbage company wouldn't take it after the holiday and we couldn't burn it in the fireplace. My dad had to cut it into tiny pieces and shove it in the garbage can. It took two months to get rid of that tree.
So that's how you get a grand inside? Dagnabbit! I settled for a small electronic keyboard.
Happy hols, Murr.
Ah yes… I love the Pootie tree… and love the history. We had tinsel too and I was always getting scolded for throwing instead of placing… one strand at a time.. and yes, we carefully folded it over the cardboard and used it the next year too. Happy Holidays to you and Dave… a and j
Love this story! I marvel at the way you have escaped the opprobrium reserved for adults who have favorite stuffed animals. I wonder whatever happened to Sparky….snif.
I seem to have taken a few days' holiday from Murrmurrs. Thanks to all who commented, now and all year long, and merry Christmas to all!
I was just thinking how Christmas looses it's glittery side without the anticipation infused by kiddos. I'm glad Pootie is there to help. Maybe Pootie has a brother who'd like to visit us for the holidays?
That would be his little buddy Hajerle, shown in the last picture. Hajerle (pronounced Harley) used to live with Margaret of International Day Of Margaret fame, but now he's with us. They'd have to go as a set, though.
Where does one even *get* a ceramic jockstrap?
I think everyone has at least one ornament that comes out each year and is perhaps worse for the wear. We didn't have tinsel. My mom hates it.
This is a funny post… a great way to end the year! I'm making up my 2012 list for Christmas, and at the top of my list is the Kohler Super Potty and Entertainment Center. I could never remember whether to leave the seat up or down…this would solve my problem. Happy New Year!