by Becky Slatten
IT’S BEEN SUGGESTED that I might go a little overboard at Christmastime. It’s true that I decorate literally everything and listen to Christmas music non-stop and watch Hallmark Christmas movies and color-coordinate my gift wrap, etc., etc., etc., but I’m ok with it. It certainly beats the alternative, the ultimate symbol that you’ve given up on life: the dreaded tabletop tree. I still remember walking into my grandparents’ house, home from college for the holidays, and there it was: a horrible, embarrassing, garish little nightmare of a plastic tree that whispered, “Santa Claus is dead.” I admit
I got a little confrontational. “And what is that?!,” I demanded. My Mimi just patted my arm. “Oh honey, we’re too old to get all that stuff out.” And I thought right then how far we’d come from the glorious Christmases of my childhood.
When we were kids, as Christmas approached, our family would hike into the woods on my grandparents’ land and chop down pines for them, ourselves and an extra-tall one for my dad’s parents, Mom and Pop; that was my cue to get excited about Christmas. My maternal grandparents, Mimi and Papa, were farmers and lived out in the country. Mimi always made fudge and cupcakes and a big pot of hot cocoa with little marshmallows to float on top, and we decorated their tree in the living room where us kids weren’t usually allowed. I’m not sure why not, though; the sofa was completely encased in clear plastic—it was virtually indestructible.
My dad’s father was a doctor, and they lived in “town.” Dad and Uncle Sam would have a few cocktails while they lay what seemed like miles of light strands all through the halls of the big house to check for burned-out bulbs. The other adults laughed and joked and essentially ignored the kids, who were in hyperactive overdrive running circles through the house. And once again, we were allowed in the forbidden living room to decorate the huge tree. It was as though at Christmastime the wardens just threw open the cells and let the inmates run wild. We loved it.
We always spent Christmas Eve in the country. The car ride to the farm was so exciting; we bounced around on the big back seat, not a seatbelt in sight. The local radio station would interrupt the broadcast of Christmas carols with reports of a UFO sighting; clearly, they were picking up Santa’s sleigh on radar, so we intently scanned the star-filled sky for a glimpse of Rudolph’s bright red nose. The house was warm and festive and filled with aunts and uncles and cousins, and it smelled of roasting turkey and a freshly cut pine. Just like it was supposed to. After we tore into our gifts at home, Christmas Day was spent in town at Mom and Pop’s house, all dressed up and forced to behave. It was a veritable redneck Norman Rockwell sketch— until the late ’70s, when we ushered in the depressing era of the exceptionally bad artificial Christmas tree.
Poor Pop gave in first, but we could hardly blame him; he was old and widowed and all he did was watch TV. His housekeeper put his lame fake tree up for a few years, but she wasn’t much younger than he was, so the pitiful tabletop tree became his Christmas afterthought.
Mimi and Papa were next, and I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think my grandmother “bought” that horrid “tree” with S&H Green Stamps. It started with a green metal pole with holes in it where the “branches” were supposed to go, but it didn’t make a mess, and by then, that’s all they cared about. Christmas reduced to how quickly it could be put away. My mother hung on for a while, but she, too, finally gave in and got an artificial monstrosity with LED lights. What’s really scary is that
I put her tree together for her last year less than two weeks before Christmas! And she didn’t really care! In fact, she really just wanted to go back to her den and watch football. Honestly, I don’t even know that woman anymore.
So now, I have a confession to make. Last year, as I single-handedly hauled all my huge bins of Christmas decorations down the stairs (because I’m too impatient to wait for help), I made the conscious decision to not put out Santa’s cookie plate. Is this how it starts?! Is the shunned cookie plate actually the trajectory to the travesty of the tabletop tree?! It’s a chilling thought but worth examining. Luckily, I have a two-year-old granddaughter to save me from whatever it is that afflicts the people who give up on Christmas. And you can believe that the cookie plate is coming out of the closet this year, AND there will be real cookies on it on Christmas Eve.
If and when I ever get so old and decrepit that I’m forced to give in to the tabletop tree, it merely means that my family no longer loves me; so go ahead and pull the sheet over me, I’ll just be waiting to die. Merry Christmas!!