In some families, pulling out the old Christmas tree and decorating it together is like, how you say? Tradition? A Hallmark memory? An evening to pretend to give a shit about your siblings as you sip egg nog while “accidentally” breaking their baby ornaments? When I was younger, I always tried to convince myself that it was a big deal. I’d try to give my mom helpful suggestions when we’d shop for lights. You know, maybe do it all one color instead of mixing strands of skinny lights with those gigantic bulbous ones. Themes have always been important to me. I wanted an elegant tree, not the agglomeration of chipped Hallmark ornaments that adorned the tree year after year. Always the same batch.
We’d go to the holiday store and no matter whether it was 1986 or 1996, I’d try to sway her to the tinsel side of tree decorating.
“No.” She wouldn’t even look at the luxurious strand of sparkling metallic riches I’d have draped around my neck, showcasing it like Zsa Zsa modeling an ostrich-feathered boa. Suggesting the loose tinsel would inspire looks better reserved for gender reassignment announcements.
“Well, then how about these fine-looking crystal bulbs?” I’d been punished with enough QVC to know exactly how to hold them in one hand and feign molestion with the other.
“Or what about–”
Oh, but she’d have no compunction when it came to hanging my brother Ryan’s Elmer’s glue-covered construction paper shit-houses all over the boughs. And it was always, “Oh my god, look at what that precious boy made in art class! He’s a prodigy!” while ignoring the fact that it was leper’ding loose fragments to the floor below.
My fondest memory of our tree was when Ryan was about a year old or so and crawling around beneath the boughs. I was six and even then I knew it was a precarious route for him to take, but he used to punch me and pull my hair. So I sat and watched as he crawled with too much moxie over top of the metal base, goo-goo’ing and ga-ga’ing that tree right the fuck into a toppling situation. Unfortunately, Ryan was saved when the tree landed against the nearby coffee table, and found himself crouched underneath a tent of artificial branches. The impact of the land busted off the top section of our tree. My mother remedied this by purchasing a miniature tree and adhering it to the top.
We used that dilapidated tree every year until I was in high school.
I think the moment when I officially gave up on the decorating and family bonding was in tenth grade when my mom banished my black angel ornament from the tree. One lousy symbol of my faux-heritage was all I asked, but the angel and I were discriminated against. I hung her up on a shelf in my bedroom, where she watched over me every night, making sure my mom didn’t try and pour bleach into my mouth while I slept. Later, I bought my own white-branched miniature tree and my black guardian angel was the lone ornamentation, a beacon reminding me to keep it real.
And then there was the pet ornament snafu. Who knew that dog ornaments made from milk bones would cause a stampede into the tree?
Maybe my mom was onto something by not letting me pick out the decorations.
Meanwhile, my grandparents’ tree looked like Martha Stewart projectile vomited her entire collection upon the branches. My aunt Sharon would always say, “No no no!” if any of us came within twenty yards of it. Before I was born, they used to hire someone from Kauffman’s to decorate it for them. (I’m sure that was more my grandma’s idea than my grandfather’s.)
I’ve lived on my own since 1998 (fine, Henry’s been around for eight of those, but considering how he’s a professional ignorer, one could still argue that I live alone), and still never splurged on a tree. Not even a miniature. And Chooch is nearly 4 now so I began to think that maybe it’s high time to do something about this.
Of course, I’m not one for normalcy, but I’d like to give my child some sort of static tradition. Sure, the magic wasn’t there for me when I was young, but surely I can try and make it right for my kid. You know, slap on a hard core Christmas carol album. Light a fire in my decorative fireplace. Tell Jesus jokes. All the things I missed out on as a kid.
Henry and I discussed it once when I was pregnant. I told him that I didn’t want our child to grow up and go to school and then come home and say, “All these kids think I’m weird because we don’t put up a Christmas tree.”
He agreed that having a Christmas tree around again would be fun. (Maybe I fabricated that part, as I often do when it comes to Henry’s involvement in things. I know, spoiler alert!) Every year I suggest that we forgo the actual tree and instead make my fifteen-year-old vision of an alternative Christmas tree come true. That is, buy a mannequin and solder extra hands, feet, legs and arms all around its head, torso and appendages. Like branches, see. And then I would make ornaments out of Homies. Maybe craft a little crack house and glue a few Homies milling around out front, listening to NWA on their ghetto blasters while waiting for Whitney Houston.
“Oh, because that won’t make kids think our child is weird,” Henry said, wiping the sarcasm from his moustache.
But in the meantime, my mom bought us a live tree. I’ve never had a real, straight-from-the-earth tree before. It came from Home Depot, my least favorite place in the world, tied with Wal-Mart, but in my imagination we went to a hobo-run tree farm in Minnesota and, with the help of the mom from “Bobby’s World,” adopted a sprightly spruce self-adorned with gilded candlesticks and all the effervescent verve of Cyndi Lauper visiting Big Top Pee Wee. And it bowed and introduced itself as Francois Twinkletoes of the Expensive Chocolate Tribe and began dispensing calorie-free truffles right straight in my gyrating maw, ya’ll.
For the time being, we only have a few Target-procured bulbs (which will soon have the names of my crew on them, a la Days of Our Lives, though I might do Janna’s for her so she doesn’t break it or misspell her name) and a small selection of ornaments my mom handed down to me probably because they hold no sentiment for her (LIKE MY FIRST XMAS ORNAMENT CIRCA 1979). She also came calling with no less than eight packs of tinsel. The loose kind that I always wished for as a child. I may have had a quick flashback of Henry firmly stating, “No tinsel, you can put anything you want on this tree, but please – no tinsel” as I draped seductive clumps of that sexy shit all up on my branches.
“That looks really nice, but you need more,” my mom said, supervising from the couch.
“I thought you hated tinsel?” I asked, ripping into another box.
“I do, because that shit gets everywhere. But this is your house, so whatever.”
When Henry came home, the obnoxious shimmer of the tinsel made him pause for a second. He scowled and then walked away. “I’m not picking that shit up when it starts migrating,” he muttered. “And believe me, it WILL.”
So far, I’ve pulled it out of the car and the fridge, and accidentally decorated the booth at Donut Connection with a rogue strand. When I catch the migrators around the house, I try to eliminate the evidence as fast as I can before Henry can stumble upon it. I get all panicked about it, like the runaway tinsel is a piece of my lover’s DNA and Henry has a gun collection.
It’s a fun game.
“I just want it to look fun and festive,” I explained to Alisha when she was over yesterday. (Henry made us soup and I think it should become a standing tradition.) “Do you think it looks fun and festive?”
“Oh…um, yeah. That’s exactly what I thought when I walked in the house. How fun and….festive,” Alisha deadpanned as she watched me (WATCHED, not HELPED) fluff branches and redistribute tinsel.
My friend Sarah made Chooch several eyeballs during the height of his optical mania, so I shoved a hook in one to give it a greater purpose. I like to believe it’s watching over the tinsel, but considering I just pulled a strand out of my underwear, I guess that’s naive. (Oh, please, like you don’t masturbate on Christmas trees. Just please.)
A Penguins bulb, enough tinsel to inspire the tree to belt out a Cher medley, and an eyeball – what more could Alisha need to feel fun and festive in the tree’s presence? A tree topper. We didn’t have a tree topper and it was really bothering me last night. I kept trying to watch TV, I mean, retain interest in Alisha’s drivel, but my eyes would magnetize right back to the bare twig protruding from the pinnacle. It looked so Charlie Brownish and I knew I had to do something, and FAST.
I tried to prepare my army for crafting war, but Alisha and Henry were all, “No, we’re good right here, watching TV” and Chooch was too busy calling everyone a bitch. I didn’t need them anyway. Storming into the kitchen, I grabbed an Xacto knife on the way and in my search for foil, I found something better: an aluminum baking pan. I sketched a scribble of a star in the middle and even in my haste it was far superior to anything Alisha or Henry could have shat out. They would have gone to the store for a stencil. The next part was very hard and I wouldn’t suggest that anyone reading this try it unless they have all the courage and ability to be a hero under pressure as one Erin Rachelle Kelly. Could that be you? I didn’t think so.
Oh, it was a tough and trying time, sawing away at this curling sheath of deadly metal, deftly swinging my wrists out of the way as shrapnel exploded through the air with the aim of a skilled marksman and the blueprint for staged-suicide etched out in its head.
Anyway, once it was cut out to perfection, all I needed was packing tape and something wand-like to shove it into the tree. God shone down his celestial spotlight which landed in a pool of righteousness on top of the refridgerator, which is where I found an unopened McDonald’s straw. Now it’s all a matter of sitting back and waiting for that broad on She’s Crafty to invite me on her show.
If that’s not the poster child for all that is majestic, then I don’t want to live in this shitty, uncultured world anymore.
It’s no mannequin, but it’ll do.
And that is the story of how the Liberatree was born. Hopefully it will be even more magical next year, provided some of that tinsel doesn’t find its way into my bedroom one night to recreate a horror movie strangulation scene.