A Christmas Story

I am sitting in my girlfriend’s office looking at her office Christmas tree. It is white, snow white, like a snowman in a Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon. (Paul Frees would provide the voice.) We will be trimming it in a few moments.

I think that tree trimming was my least favorite type of trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye necessary for decorating a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate has been quietly fixed upon my leaving.

(Two things transpired within moments of me writing the above: 1. My girlfriend credited me with expanding her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve seen who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or sometimes closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section with the same color ornament and we needed to correct this.)
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‘For the Time Being,’ Part 2

During World War II, the poet W.H. Auden wrote a book-length poem entitled “For the Time Being.” It is subtitled, “A Christmas Oratorio,” and it is a retelling of the Christmas story, but with a 20th Century sensibility. His Herod, for instance, is a technology-loving king who loves that he lives in an Age of Reason and is ever-perplexed by faith and irked that he must hunt down and exterminate the baby Jesus.

An oratorio is a type of composition that was popular in the Baroque period and in churches and has not had many comebacks as a poetic or theatrical form because it never had a period of dominance. It never went away but it was never the first choice of writing mode for many writers. (Paul McCartney produced a quite famous one, “A Liverpool Oratorio,” two decades ago.) Auden was a poet of structures and forms, though, and he produced an attempt at almost every style and poetic structure in his body of work (about 400 poems and several full-length verse plays).

Oratorios are not often staged because the form resides somewhere between performance and recitation. The piece will have characters, but the characters only address the audience and rarely each other. Music is not necessary but can supply punctuation and help telegraph and amplify the intended moods of the work. There is only one full-length recording of Auden’s Christmas oratorio online, from a performance in 2007 by the St. Peter’s Cultivators in Chicago:

By 1940, Auden’s personal spiritual journey saw him rejoin the Anglican Church of his youth in the form of the Episcopal Church. It was also around this time that he had emigrated from England to America. As Edward Mendelson, Auden’s literary executor, describes it, “Auden returned to the Anglican Communion in 1940 after seven years of thought about the moral content of Christianity, about what it means to love—or not to love—one’s neighbor as oneself.” (New York Review of Books, December 6, 2007.) More Mendelson:

Auden took seriously his membership in the Anglican Church and derived many of his moral and aesthetic ideas from Christian doctrines developed over two millennia, but he valued his church and its doctrines only to the degree that they helped to make it possible to love one’s neighbor as oneself. To the extent that they became ends in themselves, or made it easier for a believer to isolate or elevate himself, they became—in the word Auden used about most aspects of Christendom—unchristian. Church doctrines, like all human creations, were subject to judgment. […] Auden referred to himself as a “would-be Christian,” because, he said, even to call oneself a Christian would be an unchristian act of pride. “Christianity is a way, not a state, and a Christian is never something one is, only something one can pray to become.” [Emphasis mine.]

After a decade in which he personally witnessed the Spanish Civil War and watched Europe move into two philosophies—fascism and democracy—and gird itself for a war over them, Auden removed himself to New York City and developed for himself a personal faith that to some might sound a-religious and to others like he had become born again. It is in that mode that he wrote “For the Time Being,” a work that uses both verse and prose and toys vertiginously with setting (it is simultaneously urban and contemporary, 1940, and the Roman Empire in its Judean outposts).

For Christmas Day 2014, here are two sections, a verse by the Star of the Nativity and part of a long monologue by Herod on the subject of Faith versus Reason and how Reason must triumph (but won’t). The full poem is found in Auden’s Collected Poems.

The Summons
STAR OF THE NATIVITY:

I am that star most dreaded by the wise,
For they are drawn against their will to me,
Yet read in my procession through the skies
The doom of orthodox sophrosyne:
I shall discard their major preservation,
All that they know so long as no one asks;
I shall deprive them of their minor tasks
In free and legal households of sensation,
Of money, picnics, beer, and sanitation.

Beware. All those who follow me are led
Onto that Glassy Mountain where are no
Footholds for logic, to that Bridge of Dread
Where knowledge but increases vertigo:
Those who pursue me take a twisting lane
To find themselves immediately alone
With savage water or unfeeling stone,
In labyrinths where they must entertain
Confusion, cripples, tigers, thunder, pain.

If you will recall, the Three Wise Men visit King Herod to ask if he knows the location of the newborn king of the Jews that they have heard about. In response, Herod requests that the Wise Men find the baby Jesus and report back to him, ostensibly so he can travel and worship the baby but in truth to eliminate the child who might usurp his crown. In Auden’s oratorio, Herod is given a four-and-a-half page prose speech, because a man of reason would not be represented in verse. And Herod is above all a man of reason, a technocratic king with building projects throughout the land and an ongoing war against what he calls witchcraft and idolatry. He is also a bit of a fusspot:

The Massacre of the Innocents
Herod:

[…]To-day, apparently, judging by the trio who came to see me this morning with an ecstatic grin on their scholarly faces, the job has been done. “God has been born,” they cried, “we have seen him ourselves. The World is saved. Nothing else matters.”
One needn’t be much of a psychologist to realise that if this rumour is not stamped out now, in few years it is capable of diseasing the whole Empire, and one doesn’t have to be a prophet to predict the consequences if it should.
Reason will be replaced by Revelation. Instead of Rational Law, objective truths perceptible to any who will undergo the necessary intellectual discipline, and the same for all, Knowledge will degenerate into a riot of subjective visions—feelings in the solar plexus induced by undernourishment, angelic images generated by fevers or drugs, dream warnings inspired by the sound of falling water. Whole cosmogonies will be created out of some forgotten personal resentment, complete epics written in private languages, the daubs of schoolchildren ranked above the greatest masterpieces.
Idealism will be replaced by Materialism. Priapus will only have to move to a good address and call himself Eros to become the darling of middle-aged women. Life after death will be an eternal dinner party where all the guests are twenty years old. Diverted from its normal and wholesome outlet in patriotism and civic or family pride, the need of the materialistic Masses for some visible Idol to worship will be driven into totally unsocial channels where no education can reach it. Divine honours will be paid to silver tea-pots, shallow depressions in the earth, names on maps, domestic pets, ruined windmills, even in extreme cases, which will become increasingly common, to headaches, or malignant tumours, or four o’clock in the afternoon.
Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish. Every corner-boy will congratulate himself: “I’m such a sinner that God had to come down in person to save me. I must be a devil of a fellow.” Every crook will argue, “I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged. And the ambition of every young cop will be to secure a death-bed repentance.
[…]
Naturally this cannot be allowed to happen. Civilisation must be saved even if this means sending for the military, as I suppose it does. How dreary. […] Why couldn’t this wretched infant be born somewhere else? Why can’t people be sensible? I don’t want to be horrid. Why can’t they see that the notion of a finite God is absurd? Because it is. And suppose, just for the sake of argument, that it isn’t, that this story is true, that this child is in some inexplicable manner both God and Man, that he grows up, lives, and dies, without committing a single sin? Would that make life any better?

A conclusion tomorrow. Thank you for indulging me. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 25 asks, “You wake up one morning to find a beautifully wrapped package next to your bed. Attached to it is a note: “Open me, if you dare.” What’s inside the mystery box? Do you open it?”

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Santa and Me

I know Santa Claus, which I know sounds like a tall tale …

I do not remember the moment I learned that the many Santas that we encountered in person or saw on TV were “not real”; the fact that there was no “a-ha” moment leads me to assume that I never bought the story. Maybe so; maybe not. There is at least one photo of my sister and me in a “portrait with Santa,” and I remember the typical session. I knew the fellow was not Santa and I did not feel betrayed by this; I knew it was a guy overheating indoors in a snowsuit. It did not make much sense to me, to be a grown-up wearing a snowsuit indoors, but I did not envy adults the many things that they did, said, claimed, acted as if, and always eventually insisted made sense.

The nonsense things of the grown-up world were of no interest to me. From what I could determine, grown-ups were there to tell cover stories to kids to keep us in the dark about vitally important things, such as when we were getting presents; beyond that, I thought the only other thing one needed to be a grown-up was a wallet. And I had one of those, so my journey to adulthood was halfway done by age 10. It was a blue nylon wallet with a Velcro close. It was also always empty, or had the same few singles in it for years at a time. (“Empty” also describes my current wallet.)

My desires for Christmas were always selfish. I wanted “stuff” for Christmas, but really I had fun imagining the life I could be living … if only I could get the things I wanted from the many catalogs we received in the mail. I lacked imagination otherwise. Rarely did I get what I wanted, or what I convinced myself that I wanted.

I do not know why or how my family received so many giant Christmas catalogs from the various department stores (a dozen or so) that then dominated the retail landscape; perhaps every suburban family received them in the ’70s, but I knew my way around the catalogs like a medieval scholar rereading a saint’s life.

Did my parents wear pajamas? (Photo from eBay.)

Did my parents wear pajamas? (Photo from eBay.)

The holiday catalogs—Sears called its Christmas offering the “Wish Book”—were hundreds of pages long, and at least one of them per year would top 1000 pages. They were printed on thin paper and weighed many pounds apiece, with pages so saturated with color ink that their smell was unmistakable. I could always sniff out whether the magical books had been taken out and consulted during my day away from them at school. I would search them for any new tell-tale creases left behind by my parents in the pages. I never found new creases—never!—in the toy pages.

Some of the books had color bars along the side so one could quickly find one’s favorite section. As I got older, I graduated from coveting model cars and not very movable action dolls to desiring electronics. I did not dream of clothes for Christmas, nor did I understand why there were pages devoted to clothes at all—those struck me as a waste of space and ink and my precious time while searching for the toy pages (ignoring the helpful color codes on the side).

There is a nostalgia market for copies of these vintage catalogs, as can be seen by my illustrations. A copy of the 1978 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog was available last year for just under $20 on eBay. If my parents had held on to every copy of each store catalog we received every Christmas, well, I would have different parents than the ones I have. The epic, cuboid-shaped retail books were usually gone from our home shortly after the “order by” date had passed every year. 

A vintage Steve Austin doll. See the hole in the head? The push-button on his back 'controlled' his bionic left arm, which meant that his left arm was in fact useless. (Photo from eBay.)

A vintage Steve Austin doll. See the hole in the head? The push-button on his back ‘controlled’ his bionic left arm, which meant that his left arm was in fact useless. (Photo from eBay.)

My desires went through phases, from action dolls to Matchbox cars to magic kits to a brief fling with fully functioning model trains, to video games. (The most “useful” action doll was “Stretch Armstrong,” which was the one doll that lived up to its name and moved like the cartoon character. Thus, it was “realistic.” A friend had one of these. The least useful was the “bionic man” Steve Austin doll, which was easily broken but thoroughly indestructible. His bionic eye was not a telescope but instead a simple hole drilled through his head with a glass tube inserted. The tube was cloudy with dust within months of receiving the doll. Thus, it was “real” as opposed to “realistic.” That was the doll I owned.)

The pages that I really loved in the catalogs sold the model car tracks. Not the model cars or radio-controlled cars. The tracks. (See illustration at the top.) Mind you, any track that I ever actually owned myself was a simple oval, and, left to my own construction, I would somehow have sections unfinished and unfinish-able and unmatched leftover pieces of track. (Later in life, I wrote instruction manuals.) But I desired a multiple-lane highway of a Matchbox track, a complex of exit ramps and traffic circles. Some of the kits even came with stop signs, and I aspired to be the Robert Moses of my bedroom. Look at this page from a Montgomery Ward catalog, at the top of this column, with its huge illustrations and dense, descriptive copy. The track depicted on the bottom right, with its merging lanes and underpass, has me envious all over again. “Wish Book,” indeed.

The one time I played with a radio-controlled car on one such elaborate track was at a friend’s house; he had it set up on his living room floor, which made little to no sense to me, and the moment he handed me a controller, my car flipped off the track, rolled under a couch, and re-emerged for a split-second just before falling off the landing to the hardwood foyer floor below. (This may explain my lifelong hatred of split-level houses.) We looked at each other during that two seconds of loud silence that always precedes the unmistakable sound of irreversible destruction. I do not remember being invited to his house again.

I wanted the ultimate magic kit, too, and as with anything advertised in the catalogs, the magic kits grew more complex with higher prices. They all included a “magic wand,” a wooden dowel painted black, or, in the more expensive kits, painted with a white tip. In all the kits, from simple to pricey, the tricks were easy to follow, both for the performer and, unfortunately, his audience. Most of the tricks in magic kits are the basic shell game and some variations—balls and cups—or include a set of pre-marked cards or a dummy set of all aces or jokers.

The lesson in kit after kit, year after year (my parents are patient people) was an easy one that I rejected time after time: that real magic is only possible through cheating or hiding the fact you, the performer, are cutting corners. This seemed like more nonsense from grown-ups, like a fake Santa. As a result, I would lose interest in each magic kit within weeks or months, but I wanted a new kit every single Christmas.

For me, most magic kits emphasize the word “trick” and lose that word “magic,” and I think what I wanted out of a magic kit was to learn a trick that would take its performer for a ride as much as it did the audience. I did not want to learn how to perform the tricks; I wanted to perform them. I wanted to be astonished, too.

I believed that such magic existed. And every Christmas, I believed that it would arrive in a cheap cardboard box of tricks with easy-to-lose balls and cups. Somehow I was never disappointed; the magic simply wasn’t in this particular box, it may have been in the one next to it on the shelf, I told myself. Maybe next year. 

Ah, well. Life’s magic does exist. And it astonishes its performer and takes him for as much of a ride as it does his audience. The magic may in fact be in the next moment or the one just behind it on the shelf. Because I know Santa Claus. Always did. He’s always a few doors down the street, just out of sight and sound for the moment.

* * * *
Happy holidays, all of them, from my family and friends to you and yours.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 24 asks, “Who’s your hero? Tell us a story about why that person plays such an important role in your life.”

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‘For the Time Being,’ Part 1

During World War II, the poet W.H. Auden wrote a book-length poem entitled “For the Time Being.” It is subtitled, “A Christmas Oratorio,” and he desired that it be set to music; because it is fifty-two pages long as is, before the addition of music or stage directions, he could have easily subtitled it, “The Longest Christmas Oratorio: Bring Snacks.” Benjamin Britten decided that composing music for the full work was too difficult so he set two short sections to music.

“For the Time Being” was published in 1944. I will explore it a bit more tomorrow. It is found in Auden’s Collected Poems. Here is one section:

At the Manger
MARY:

O shut your bright eyes that mine must endanger
With their watchfulness; protected by its shade
Escape from my care: what can you discover
From my tender look but how to be afraid?
Love can but confirm the more it would deny.
     Close your bright eye.

Sleep. What have you learned from the womb that bore you
But an anxiety your Father cannot feel?
Sleep. What will the flesh that I gave do for you,
Or my mother love, but tempt you from His will?
Why was I chosen to teach His son to weep?
     Little One, sleep.

Dream. In human dreams earth ascends to Heaven
Where no one need pray or ever feel alone.
In your first few hours of life here, O have you
Chosen already what death must be your own?
How soon will you start on the Sorrowful Way?
     Dream while you may.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 19 asks, “The holiday season: can’t get enough of it, or can’t wait for it all to be over already? Has your attitude toward the end-of-year holidays changed over the years?”

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A Christmas Tree Story

I am sitting in my girlfriend’s office looking at her office Christmas tree. It is white, snow white, like a snowman in a a Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon. (Paul Frees would provide the voice.) We will be trimming it in a few moments.

office xmas

A white Christmas.

I think that tree trimming was my least favorite trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye necessary for decorating a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate has been quietly fixed upon my leaving.

(Two things transpired within moments of me writing the above: 1. My girlfriend credited me with expanding her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve seen who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or even closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section with the same color ornament and we needed to correct it.)

One winter, a friend enlisted me in a project to cut down a real live Christmas tree from a Christmas tree farm so her son could experience a Christmas like the one she and I had never ever had. (The sum total of my experience with freshly cut Christmas trees was buying one in a parking lot from a seller who was asked by the police to pick up his trees and move it along seconds after we made an offer. We did not receive an “Everything Must Go Because I Am Being Busted” discount.)

Neither my friend, her seven-year-old son, nor I knew what cutting a live, six-foot-tall or smaller tree would take, so we brought the only saw that she knew she had. (I believe it was one that her uncle had rejected forty-five years earlier for one that was actually sharp; now, forty-five years later, it also had some rust.) We then drove to a tree farm in Dutchess County, New York. I have chopped wood plenty of times, and I have helped take dead trees down; neither of these experiences served me on this day.

The first task in cutting down a fresh Christmas tree for oneself is finding something to occupy the seven-year-old son of your friend—allowing the child to select the winning tree to preserve your friendship with his mom is advisable. Next up is failure in the negotiations with the seven-year-old to pick a tree that is not on a steep, snowy slope. (Happy people with skis were walking almost as far up as our tree was located. Almost. I was wearing sneakers.)

Many will ask the question, “Should I cut two notches to make a V or cut straight across?” I know I did, just not out loud or in the presence of someone who could tell me the answer. With my tiny, rusty saw and no one holding the other side of the saw, I started notching one side of a V. The blade sliced some bark off and did not penetrate the green wood underneath. The snow had already penetrated my shoes, though. The trunk was no thicker than two inches wide, if that—hey, I’m no tree-ologist!—but it was quickly apparent that I was going to need help.

With that in mind, I drove away my companion and her son with my grumpy “attitude.”

After an hour alone, my inner debate over cutting straight through versus cutting a V had produced several partial starts—some up, some down—all the way around the trunk of the tree. Instead of a V, I had notched something like a lowercase w but less useful, partway to the center of the tree. My friend returned and we commenced cutting straight across, because it was “taking me too long,” when we discovered together that there is nothing quite as unsatisfying as the sound of a tree not coming down no matter how far one has cut through it until it is ready to come down. Nothing unites like mutual frustration.

It eventually came down. I accompanied it down the slope … okay, I rode it down the hill like Slim Pickens at the end of “Dr. Strangelove.” I had not reminded my friend or her seven-year-old son to bring rope to tie it to the roof of her car, so we drove home with it sticking out one of the backseat windows. In my lap.

* * * *
My family had one plastic tree for twenty or more Christmases. It was a well-constructed one, actually, a bare metal trunk with a two or three hoops to hook in each individual branch around the tree. It actually had an instruction manual. Our Christmas tree and boxes of ornaments occupied several boxes in the basement; the annual production of “putting up the tree” was my introduction to grown-ups not being able to remember from one year to the next the locations of things they put away in the same box in the same place every year. And now I am that grown-up.

I am sure that my mother and father found it necessary to re-position my ornaments; I swear that something happens to me when I approach a tree, ornament in hand. I have hooked ornaments into shirt buttonholes when I swear I was aiming for the tree. Just as I wanted to cut my one live tree down in one graceful and strong sawing motion, I always want this ornament here and now to be the first, last, and only one needed to make this year’s tree the complete and perfect Christmas statement. I want someone to exclaim, “This is the most Christmas ever!” Christmas brings out the perfectionist in all his mistake-prone grumpiness in me.

Thus, the only part of decorating that I relax and enjoy is either throwing tinsel everywhere or putting the angel on top. (That is an unsung rite of passage, growing tall enough to top the tree with a star or angel.) We had an angel, a cardboard seraph with glued-on glitter and thin, stringy blonde hair. Its halo was glued-on, as well. But it was our angel, and when nicer, more expensive-looking, ones found their way into our house, they were always relegated to lower branches. My family’s underdog mentality extended to angels.

That mentality may have been the best, most lasting, gift from my family.

* * * *
(An earlier version of this was first published last December on my previous website. My girlfriend and I will be decorating the tree again this weekend.)

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 11 asks, “As it’s been a while since our last free-write … set a timer for ten minutes. Write without pause (and no edits!) until you’re out of time. Then, publish what you have (it’s your call whether or not to give the post a once-over).”

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A Christmas Tree Story

I am sitting in my girlfriend’s office looking at her office Christmas tree. It is white, snow white, like a snowman in a a Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon. (Paul Frees would provide the voice.) We will be trimming it in a few moments.

A white Christmas. Photo by Mark Aldrich


I think that tree trimming was my least favorite trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye necessary for decorating a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate has been quietly fixed upon my leaving.

(Two things transpired within moments of me writing the above: my girlfriend credited me with expanding her notions of tree decoration–“You’re the first person I’ve seen who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or even closer to the trunk; and we found that I had overloaded one section with the same color ornament and we needed to correct it.)One winter, a friend enlisted me in a project to cut down a real live Christmas tree from a Christmas tree farm so her son could experience a Christmas like the one she and I had never ever had. (The sum total of my experience with freshly cut Christmas trees was buying one in a parking lot from a seller who was asked by the police to pick up his trees and move it along just after we made an offer. We did not get a discount.)

Neither my friend, her seven-year-old son, nor I knew what cutting a live, six-foot-tall or smaller tree would take, so we brought the one saw she had (I believe it was one her uncle had rejected 45 years before for one that was actually sharp; now it also had some rust) and drove to a tree farm in Dutchess County, New York. I have chopped wood plenty of times, and I have helped take dead trees down; none of these experiences served me this day. 

The first task in cutting down a fresh Christmas tree for oneself is finding something to occupy the seven-year-old son of your friend–letting the child select the winning tree to preserve your friendship with his mom is advisable. Next up is failing in negotiations with him to pick a tree that is not on a slope.

Many will ask the question, “Should I cut two notches to make a V or cut straight across?” I know I did, just not out loud or in the presence of someone who could tell me the answer. With my tiny, rusty saw and no one holding the other side of the saw, I started notching one side of a V. The blade sliced some bark off and did not penetrate the green wood underneath. The snow had already penetrated my boots, though. The trunk was no thicker than two inches wide, if that–I’m no tree-ologist!–but it was quickly apparent that I was going to need help. 

With that in mind, I drove away my companion and her son with my grumpy “attitude.”

An hour alone, my inner debate over cutting straight through versus cutting a V had produced several partial starts–some up, some down–all the way around the tree. Instead of a V, I had notched a lowercase w, partway to the center of the tree. My friend returned and we commenced cutting straight across, because it was taking me too long, when we discovered that there is nothing quite as unsatisfying as the sound of a tree not coming down no matter how far one has cut through it until it is ready to come down. 

It eventually came down. I accompanied it down the slope … okay, I rode it down the hill like Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove.” I had not reminded her to bring rope to tie it to the roof of her car, so we drove home with it sticking out one of the backseat windows. 

* * * *

My family had one plastic tree for twenty or more Christmases. It was a well-constructed one, actually, a bare metal trunk with a two or three hoops to hook in each individual branch around the tree. It actually had an instruction manual. Our Christmas tree and boxes of ornaments occupied several boxes in the basement; the annual production of “putting up the tree” was my introduction to grown-ups not being able to remember from one year to the next the locations of things they put away in the same box in the same place every year. And now I am that grown-up.

I am sure that my mother and father found it necessary to re-position my ornaments; I swear that something happens to me when I approach a tree, ornament in hand. I have hooked ornaments into shirt buttonholes when I swear I was aiming for the tree. Just as I wanted to cut my one live tree down in one graceful and strong sawing motion, I always want this ornament here and now to be the first, last, and only one needed to make this year’s tree complete and perfect. Christmas brings out the perfectionist in all his mistake-prone grumpiness in me. 

An addition to my kitchen. Photo by Mark Aldrich

Thus, the only part of decorating that I relax and enjoy is either throwing tinsel everywhere or putting the angel on top. (That is an unsung rite of passage, growing tall enough to top the tree with a star or angel.) We had an angel, a cardboard seraph with glued-on glitter and thin, stringy blonde hair. Its halo was glued-on, as well. But it was our angel, and when nicer ones found their way into our house, they were always relegated to lower branches. My family’s underdog mentality extended to angels.

The tree in my girlfriend’s office replaced one she had had for several years. That one now sits in my kitchen, and is the first Christmas tree I have had for my own Christmas in many many years. I do not think I have told her that, yet. Here it sits:

I did not know that trees came pre-lighted. This discovery is revolutionizing my outlook on Christmas. However, I will be leaving the decorating to my housemate, for fear of hooking a ball to my shirt.