(N)o Tannenbaum


‘I love The Tree. As long as somebody else decorates it.’

One of my earliest memories is of checking out the Christmas trees in the front windows of the houses in the small towns we’d pass through on our way to Gramma’s house in Northern Illinois. The radio would be playing Christmas music (‘Little Drummer Boy’ didn’t exist back then, thank god) and Dad would be driving. Usually I’d be the only one awake. Except for Dad, of course, who’d be smoking and sort of shaking his head from time to time to stay alert. Heady times.

I’d gaze at those trees through those windows and imagine the families gathered around them, the kids rattling the presents and trying to guess what was in there. Which I would do myself once we got to Gramma’s house. (You can see me, and my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, in the picture at the top of this post getting caught red-handed doing just that.)

My Aunt Marilyn, who would be home from college and in charge of Gramma and Grampa’s tree, loved decorating. She’d even decorate herself with Santa earrings and reindeer sweaters and such. She’d pick out the biggest tree she could find and go decorating crazy. I remember these lights that looked like candles. Special ornaments with stories attached. And tons of tinsel, which we called ‘icicles’. One year the tree was so big it had to be lopped off at the top to fit into the living room. She told us that tree went on up through the ceiling. And we believed her.

It was pretty sweet having a Christmas tree every year that I didn’t have to lift a finger to adorn. Even after The Dude and I got married, we got away with murder, Christmas-tree-wise. We ‘cheated’ and got those little trees in pots from the corner Fruit Stand Guy. You know, the ones that come already ‘decorated’ with maybe a couple of bows and a little teensy ball or two. After Christmas, we’d plant them. Sometimes we wouldn’t even bother ‘undecorating’ them first. These days, the woods around our house in Amagansett are peppered with now-huge formerly-tiny trees-once-in-pots. Though the little bows and balls are long gone.

See that fence behind the formerly-tiny tree from the 80s? It's about 6 ft. high

See that fence behind that formerly-tiny 80s tree? It’s about 6 feet high

Then we had The Child. And that changed everything. We figured if we’d gone to all that trouble to have a small person, we could at least have a properly large Christmas tree. But, darn it, I felt the same way about decorating it as I felt about, say, cleaning closets. Then a Christmas light bulb went off in my noggin.

Hey, I thought. We know people who actually enjoy decorating Christmas trees. And who are really good at it. I’ll entice them over to do our decorating for us. Here was the pitch: you bring an ornament, put it on our tree, and I’ll ply you with champagne. And when the tree’s ‘done’, we’ll sit down to a humongous pot roast dinner.

The Dude and I filled with joy during the Very First Tree Trim in 1996

Eureka! It worked. The Dude and I enjoying the results of the Very First Tree Trim in 1996

Well, this ploy worked. And ‘Tree Trim’ was born. We got our tree decorated, our friends got a nice dinner, and everybody got to enjoy a swell party. This mutually-beneficial arrangement worked its magic for many years, as you can see from the festive, merry evidence displayed here:

A few years later, in the midst of champagne-fueled trimming

A few years on, the champagne-and-pot-roast ploy is still happily effective

The Year When The Child’s Arm Was In A Cast

Middle-school spread. Though it could have been from any year

Fast-forward to the Last Tree Trim. Those could almost be the same clementines

Fast-forward to high school. Those could almost be the same clementines

But alas. Time marched on. The Child stopped believing in Santa (or at least I think so), and, what was the real deal-breaker, got sucked into a college schedule that got her home way too late to squeeze in a pre-Christmas shindig. (I did think about having a Tree Untrimming Party, where we’d sip champagne while dismantling said tree. But that sounded rather Scrooge-like and sad.) So. No more Tree Trim.

I miss having a big ole tree, of course. But I still don’t miss decorating it. In fact, these days, my decorating runs somewhat along these lines:

Basically, I switch my turkey napkins for my reindeer ones. I'll drink to that!

Basically, I switch my turkey napkins for my reindeer ones. I’ll drink to that!

But someday, like if we ever hear the patter of little GrandFeet, we’ll reinstate Tree Trim. And tell you what: if The Child promises to sport the paper crown that comes inside her Christmas cracker, we might just think about doing it sooner than that.

New York City. December 2015


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33 thoughts on “(N)o Tannenbaum

  1. I see I already commented about the Christmas ladder but this year everything changes. My new hubby is one of those who loves to actually go out into the wilderness and cut down a tree. Ugh. Back to decorating a tree again. I think I’m going to take a hint from you and focus on Christmas cookies while everyone else decorates…

    • Thanks, John. It was fun indeed. Since I had the first one of these shindigs in the mid-nineties and the last when The Child could no longer get home from college in a timely fashion to participate (which was ten years ago now — astonishing!) you can imagine that we scored enough decorations to adorn dozens of trees. They are all safely stashed for if/when we have Little Ones around to be amazed at them. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  2. josypheen

    The tree trim is a brilliant idea!!

    I always quite like decorating the tree, unless my cat gets involved and helpfully starts batting the baubles around the house – then I LOVE it!! There is nothing funnier than a cat attempting to catch a glitter ball and ending all all shiny.

  3. Losing the Plot

    Ha! I’d be one of those people doing the decorating, I love doing the tree, undoing it – not so much, but what a great idea having a party to dive out the work

  4. I love the idea of inviting people around to decorate your tree for you. You may not enjoy tree decorating yourself but your gifts are clearly cooking and hospitality, so it sounds a very good arrangement to me. I hope you do see grandchildren decorating your tree in years to come. (Personally I enjoy decorating the tree myself!)

    • Yo! If you ‘enjoy decorating the tree’, then come on over! I’ll save you some champagne! And yes, I do enjoy cooking and having family and friends around, which is why I love Thanksgiving so — all the Good Stuff, but no decorating! (p.s. thanks for stopping by)

  5. I am sitting here looking at a naked, rather wonky tree that hubby has just put up…thinking”oh, no…now for the darned lights!” – then I saw your hilarious post just above mine on Saturday blog share and it really lifted my spirits. Love it – hope you have a very Merry Xmas with plenty of champagne xxx

  6. I’m right there with you and that is why I have had a “Christmas Ladder” for several years now. Thank goodness for Pinterest! Ever since the kiddo wanted nothing to do with cutting down the tree or decorating it, I was OFF THE HOOK. What’s the Christmas Ladder you say? An old wooden ladder that normally decorates my hallway gets opened up in the living room, toss on some white lights and ta-da! Merryment and glow for the front window.

    • Wow! What a great idea! I have always been fond of twinkling in the front window. Now all you need is one of those candles that smells just like a Christmas Tree. A Thanksgiving guest gave me one, and it has changed my Holiday Life Forever!

      • Oh, yeah, there’s a pine smelly candle for sure. I even had a spray once but ever since the one year my son thought more was better and the house smelled like a fake forest all the way into summer, I have stuck with the candle!

  7. I’m all about the idea of an untrimming party. That’s the worst part for me. This year, with so much else going on in my life, I told the hubs we didn’t need to get a tree, but he insisted. And I insisted harder that I wouldn’t be the one decorating it. So now it’s leaning pathetically against the wall with no decorations, and it’s sadder than not even having a tree at all, lol. Please tell all of your friends to come to my house to decorate it. I can’t promise pot roast, but I’ll pour as much champagne down their throats as they’d like!

    • Oh nooooo! I can just picture your sad, pathetic, naked Tree! But I completely sympathize and identify with your lack of decorating enthusiasm. I’d send my hungry, thirsty pals over, but in later years they too got very lazy and, while they continued to bring ornaments, ‘forgot’ to hang them (!)

  8. The older I get the less I feel like doing the wll out decoration thing. Still have not done anything this year. Maybe I should try and find the small decorated tree and use that, because we need a tree for the grand kids!

    • Not sure where you live, but here in New York it seems that every corner has a fruit stand with teensy already-decorated (well, with little bows and balls anyway) trees lined up out front. Very tempting, as well as easy. And yes, if I had g’kids, I’d have to get one (!) Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  9. I am sending you my husband – as a Brit married to an American and living in Glasgow I am in awe/shock every year at what he turns our house into and as for the tree, 12 feet high black glitter covered in shiny things. Now if I could just stop him making the sweet potato marshmallow thing…

    • Wow! Brave woman you! A giant Tree AND the Sweet Potato Thing. At least there are no decorations for 4th of July (!) Thx for reading and commenting and Merry Christmas too xo

  10. Ara

    Alice take on christmas! Priceless lol. Youre so clever to throw a dinner party in exchange for decorating the tree, it actually sounds like a good deal. Decorating is a lot of work but it feels good at the end when you finish and you look back and realize that you did it. Does the child like decorating?

    • Thanks, Ara! You are right about the work involved in decorating. I suppose some people would say that throwing the Tree Trim party would be a lot of work too (!) Not only that, but when the dinner party’s over, all you have is full tummies and dirty dishes. When you’re done decorating, you have a beautiful tree. Maybe I’ve been thinking this backwards all along! As for The Child and decorating, I honestly don’t know. Poor Thing. I’ll have to ask her. You’ve given me LOTS to think about! xo

    • Aw, thanks Mom. I tried to picture myself sitting in the back seat of that brown and white station wagon. You are so right about Scott channeling Grampa! I miss those days more than I can say. But at least I still have YOU xoxoxoxoxo

  11. I am surprised at you, Alice, not lavishing ornaments all over the place on a tree. Actually, you could decorate one with champagne glasses or martini glasses and it would look great. With little twinkling lights inside. That is all. Martha Stewart.

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