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The Christmas Tradition That Started With a Fight

We’ve got a little tradition in our family that’s seven years in the making, now. Unlike most family traditions, however, ours has a rather inauspicious beginning — it sprang (sprung? had sprungeth?) from the very first fight Caroline and I ever had.

It was long before the tumultuous trio were conceived — even before we were married. We were just boyfriend and girlfriend at the time and clandestine ones at that, for we didn’t dare come out of the closet until we were as certain as we could be that we’d go the distance out of consideration for Caroline’s daughter. But one thing that wasn’t a secret was the fallout that came from the Great Christmas Tree Debacle of 2005.

It began innocently enough, with the purchase of a beautiful Christmas tree, one Caroline believed to be perfect for the home she and her daughter shared. Only one problem. It was too tall for her ceilings, so she gave the tree to her best friend, and she was heartbroken about it. So heartbroken that I sensed she’d have a hard time starting the process of buying a tree all over again.

So, being the compassionate suitor that I was, I decided to take matters into my own hands by finding a replacement tree. I would buy it, erect it (that didn’t sound right), and string the lights while Caroline was away such that she’d come home to a Yuletide surprise that would surely make her heart go pitter patter.

There was really only two problems. First, Caroline is a bit of a snob, very picky, and as such, she expects certain things out of her Christmas tree. Luckily for me, I knew what those things were. Full body with plenty of limbs, but not too many limbs. And not ones that grew all funny.

And second, she’s very particular about her lights. When lighting a tree, you are to start at the trunk end of the bottommost limb and work your way out to the exterior before making your way back to the trunk, then going to the next limb, unless, of course, the limb has a sub-limb in which case you are to repeat the process for the sub-limb before moving on to the next limb.

Obsessive lighting peculiarities notwithstanding, I set off on my mission armed with confidence and a tape measurer (so as not to duplicate her initial mistake) and, after nearly 45 minutes of searching, I finally identified the perfect tree.

I brought it back to Caroline’s house and began the lighting process. Wow, I thought to myself shortly into it, this lighting method sure does cause the tree to lose a lot of needles. So I decided to step back from my work and examine the tree.

To my chagrin, I saw a big, barren spot right where I’d been working. So I spun the tree around and continued stringing the lights. Same deal. So I spun the tree around yet again, all too aware that one could only spin a tree so many times before returning to the initial spot.

Who cares if the tree has little bald spots here and there, I thought optimistically. I’ve got little bald spots here and there and Caroline still loves me. So, too, will she love this tree.

Or would she? “Wow!” she said with a look of appreciation as she examined the tree. After a bit more examining, the look morphed into one of mild disappointment, though she quickly altered it back to appreciation.

Feigned appreciation.

“Well?” I said. “What do you think?”

“You are so sweet is what I think,” she said.

Not what I was going for.

“But what about the tree? Do you like the tree?” I asked with the slightest hint of an edge.

“It’s just fine, honey.”

Just fine? I pestered her repeatedly. How do you think it looks? Do you like the lights? After all, I’d spent all day on it. And I wanted an honest answer. Which is what I finally got when she pointed to the splotchy, pathetic tree and screamed at the top of her lungs:

You’ve got eyes! How do you think it looks?”

I maintained that it was the excessive lighting technique which had caused the needles to fall while Caroline contended that I had simply picked out a dead tree which looked okay at the lot, but not so great anymore. Still, she repeatedly said that she appreciated the gesture so much that she really did like the tree. At least in spirit.

She wanted to keep it. But the next day, I hauled it off and took it to the warehouse of the little countertop shop I co-owned at the time, saying something along the lines of “It might not be good enough for you, but I’m sure the guys at the shop will appreciate it.”

Caroline eventually picked out a third tree, and in a stubborn act I insisted on lighting it. I was a bit crestfallen, I’ll admit, when the needles of that tree remained largely in tact as I executed the strenuous technique. But I made up for that disappointment by vowing to light that damn thing better than any tree Caroline had ever seen.

Which is exactly what I succeeded in doing. And I could tell by the look on Caroline’s face when she saw the finished product.

“John!” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “The lights. They’re…

“PERFECT.”

Each and every year, the honor of picking out a tree falls to me. And despite the Great Christmas Tree Debacle of 2005, or maybe because of it, each and every year, I pick out a winner. And each and every year, I string the tree with enough lights to illuminate a small village. This year’s tree? 2,000 white lights with 100 old-school color lights to make it pop.

We’d be the first to admit that it takes too long. Six hours or more. Regardless, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Osbornes listen to Christmas music while Daddy lights the tree and Mommy and the kids decorate the house.

The first couple of years, I used to grow impatient with the process of lighting the tree, but the last two or three I’ve come to revel in it. For in the grand scheme of things, six hours is nothing. In fact, this year, the time flew by. I spent it thinking about the love that this season represents to me. As well as the love that Caroline and I share — the one which begot this wonderful tradition to begin with.

And before I knew it, not only was my entire living room aglow, but so, too, was my heart.

UPDATE:

Eileen’s comment is right on the money. I should have included pics of this year’s tree. Here’s what it looks like during the day (when it’s hard to appreciate how many lights are on it!)

And here’s one taken at night where you can better see how nuts-o we go on the lights:

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