“Do not wrestle with the Baby Jesus!”
I’m not exactly sure when I realized that my kids had completely missed the meaning of Christmas, but I had an inkling that it had happened as I watched all four of them wrestling on the floor. It was like the quarterback had dropped the ball – only it wasn’t a ball – it was the baby Jesus they were scrumming over. It was a melee of screaming, crying, writhing humanity as they battled for the glory to be the one to put the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, the baby with the upturned arms onto the waiting bed of ceramic hay.
I did what all good parents do: I took the baby away from them and gave it to the one who cried the loudest. Molly got to do it. It wasn’t that she deserved it, quite the opposite, but if she hadn’t been chosen she would have pitched a royal tsunami and to be perfectly honest, I was still a bit afraid of her at that time. To keep the festive dog-pile from happening again, I wrote her name on the creche box and then explained to “all the dear children in thy tender care” that every year from now on we would each take turns putting the Savior of the World onto the manger.
The decking of the halls always begins with the placing of the creche. A pad of cotton is placed upon the piano top because everyone knows that it was snowy when Jesus was born. I then put together the lean-to that Mary sits under and place it on the cotton pad. Each child in turn then gets to choose and place each figure on the “snow.” It goes round and round until the “Child of the Year” gets to place baby Jesus on the “hay.”
It used to be a sweet and touching tradition, but in recent years it has turned somewhat preposterous. It seems that the ox and the ass are prone to wander into the manger where they try to eat the scarf off Mary’s head and the three wise men huddle in the corner, either throwing dice or trying to decide on which play to run next. Joseph, stuck on the outside of the shelter and far away from his wife and son, looks disinterestedly at the camel like he wonders why it only has one hump. Mary alone sits calmly amidst all the chaos and along with the cow, serenely looks at her baby as he lays on the manger with no blanket covering him even though the ground is covered in snow.
Dream Crusher loves Christmas like no other holiday and wades into the fray with her ruler, slapping hands away from the scene with the practiced rhythm of one who would have been a good nun. She quickly restores order and peace is to be had once again in Bethlehem.
There is Christmas music and it’s not tedious, but rather nice and soothing for the first few minutes. The boxes are brought up from the storage room and D.C. takes out all the things she wants displayed this year and the kids get their ornaments out and ready to place on the tree. Every year we give each of the kids an ornament and at this point in our lives we are awash in festive tree adornments.
When the kids were little they were always excited to decorate the tree, each placing their ornaments as high as they could reach. When they were finished, the tree looked very bottom heavy, but it was beautiful and in their eyes it sparkled magically. The next morning the kids would come downstairs to look at the tree and see once again where they had placed each ornament, but disappointment would quickly set in because in the middle of the night the Ornament Fairy had come and moved them uniformly around the entire tree.
“Mother! Why did you move our ornaments?!” they would whine in unison.
“Well, you didn’t put them in the right spots. The Ornament Angel made everything perfect. Doesn’t it look better?”
The tree from the bad place looked unlit even with every single strand of lights we owned draped loosely around it. It was like a black hole from which light could not escape. I am convinced that the National Weather Service noticed a distinct change in the ebb and flow of the tides because of the gravitational pull from our tree. It took me over an hour to sling the lights around and over its carcass, but still I was forced to head to the store for more lights and even then it cast but a faint glow in the gloom of night.
This giant sequoia also ate ornaments for lunch. There was such a gaping maw of greenery that once you put an ornament on a branch there was a chance that you would never see it again. The Ornament Fairy didn’t stand a chance. There were just too many bare spots and not enough ornaments to move them to. D.C. was so distraught that she almost allowed me to put tinsel on the thing, which we all know is the cardinal sin of tree trimming.
When it was finally done everyone stood back and took a good hard look at it, but aside from the obvious bare and dark spots there was something terribly wrong. The darn thing looked crooked. I climbed underneath and undid the screws while the kids pushed and pulled on it, but no matter what we did it still listed to one side, like a ship taking on water. There was nothing to do about it, but enjoy it as it was. Not only was the tree big, it also rode the short yellow bus.
Everything was fine until we were about a week away from Christmas. We were coping and had adjusted our routine to living with a tree. We took turns using the one chair in the living room you could get to without crawling under the branches. We watered it on the hour every hour for 18 hours a day because Dream Crusher demanded that it be hydrated. She did not want this tree to dry out and spontaneously combust and blow the doors off of the house. I think the thing actually put down tap roots and grew a few inches when it lived with us.
Moses prophesied ten plagues that would descend upon Egypt. We experienced three of the ten, four if you include spiders. There was so much entomological activity taking place within our tree that we were afraid the EPA would find out and declare our tree a wetland and never let us remove it. The cobwebs hung from the chimney with care and spiders skittered around the ceiling like something out of a Steven King novel.
The gnats were so thick that a black plume arose from the tree if you brushed against it. I got so used to swallowing the occasional gnat that I actually gained an appreciation for their taste. The locusts didn’t swarm, but their smaller cousin, the cricket, made its presence known every hour of every day. It got so bad that we almost killed an unblemished lamb and smeared its blood on our doorpost just to protect our firstborn.
On the second day of treemas my true love gave to me: a phone call telling me that the tree had fallen over. I was at work, but she just wanted to let me know that water was everywhere and that she hoped the presents weren’t ruined. There was a thick hint of sarcasm as she told me she “just wanted to let me know.”
I raced home and was able to get the tree upright and lashed to one of the ceiling beams. That tree was going nowhere. We filled the stand with water, but it was so dry that tree drank faster than we could keep up. I must have put two gallons in it before I realized that the stand had cracked when the tree fell over and all of the water had spilled all over the presents again.
I may have said a bad word.
I won’t go into the gory details, but I bought a new stand, unlashed the tree and with the help of my son, a pair of 2x4s and some back strength, we lifted the tree high enough to allow Allison to crawl under and arm wrestle a new, industrial-sized stand to the bottom of it. By this point I hated this tree more than D.C. It was possessed.
Christmas finally arrived. We all crowded around the outside walls and the girls passed out the presents. As usual, there were way too many and the kids each piled them like a fortress. We always open our presents one at a time (D.C. says it’s to make the day last) and as we went from child to child opening presents one thing became apparent. The wrapping paper was sticking to everything. It was like static electricity on a balloon only it wasn’t static – it was pitch. Everything underneath the radius of the branches was covered in it. The judicious watering had cause the thing to “bleed” like a stuck pig. There were little ant hills of pitch, built drip by drip, rising from the floor like mini stalagmites.
I was done. Christmas was dead to me and while the kids opened their presents in the dining room, I took what ornaments I could find off the tree and chainsawed the thing into tiny pieces and dragged them to the backyard.
Pitch burns really, really well.
This year’s tree.