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Kat Simmons, An Imperfect Christmas Tradition

Our Broken Christmas Tradition

Christmas comes faster every year. It seems I have just put the last stray ornament away, and then it is time to drag those boxes out all over again. It is with mixed emotion I do this, and I often question my resistance to the very that should be so joyful. I am by nature, a nonconformist, so the act of doing what everyone else is doing goes against my grain. My neighbors add a new animated, brightly lit trinket every year, while I put one less up. I asked my kids, “what if every house that had lights, took that money and fed the hungry, or provided fresh water for someone on the planet, instead of turning their house into job security for the power company?” I hate to be a kill joy, but is the way my brain works.

We have had an artificial tree for about thirteen years now, and although I love smell of the fresh cut pine in my home, I am somewhat pained to see this beautiful tree, now dying for the sake of decoration. I have come to terms with ritual, by way of the same logic of gifting of flowers. They are grown just for this purpose, so it is not a waste, and the joy they bring is enormous, so I can justify it, but I have come to love my old fake tree that sadly it most likely came from China. It has become a part of the family, and waits in the garage for its two weeks of glory every year. My son, Jon and I have the yearly job of assembling the stand. For the last four years it has been really challenging as the holes where the screws go that brace it are all stripped. We now have figured out the basics, and can put it together swiftly,but then we have to really tinker and Jimmy rig it to make it work. Every year he grumbles about how it is junk and we need a new one, and every year I swear it will be the last time we use it. This year I asked him to go get the tree and have it in the house when I got home so we could assemble it after dinner.

Last year before I put everything away, I wrote a note and tucked it in the stand, contemplating how many changes were going to take place in this next year, and I wondered where we would be as mother and son a year from now? I also told him where I put the star, just in case I forgot or something happened to me. Sadly, this is the closest thing to a will that I have attempted. His dad used to hold him up to put the top on for the first five years, then he used a really high chair, then just a chair, now he simply reaches right to the top and crowns our tree with one swift movement. When I see this, it makes me cry because it is a visual fact that he is not my baby anymore, and I am flooded with memories of his early magical Christmases, and how he used to tell Santa to “surprise me,” instead of asking for anything.

This year the old, stripped, rickety metal tree holder was clearly not functional anymore. We sat for an hour, trying different ways to make it work. I, being my father’s daughter, and having been raised on a steady diet determination and duct tape, went and retrieved this silver magic that I had witnessed fix anything. I tightly wrapped it around the trunk, or piece of metal as it were, and then like a May pole stretched it down and firmly affixed it to the bottom of the stand. I did this all the way around, much like tightening lug nuts on a wheel, and felt confident that our tree would remain erect one more year. Jon told me it looked “ghetto” which is one one of his new favorite sayings. I told him it was nothing a little tree skirt would not fix. Emma, my 14 year old was anxiously awaiting her tradition, which is to put the first ornament on, but she had to wait until this ordeal was over with Jon and I. During this time she got creative without us and decorated a ficus tree in the entry way, and it looks Sunset Magazine worthy. I swear she is related to Martha Stewart. For as much resistance I have, she has double the enthusiasm for this whole decorating ritual. She gave her tree a theme, and oddly, it is the one I have always wanted to create on the family tree. I love the opalescent and purple ornaments, and have had a vision of having an artsy tree with coordinating colors that are soothing to the eye. However, the the children will never allow this, so every year we have an assortment of lovely ornaments, and the ones that they made in preschool, out of Popsicle sticks, with their pictures inside, reindeer made out of corks and toothpicks, and some others that honestly I do not even recognize as they sit in the bottom of the box like dismembered parts of Santa’s workshop. Every year I come close to throwing them away, but I never do, and never will. My kids will have to dispose of them when I am long gone, sorry kids.

Both kids refuse to give up their old stockings. Emma’s still says, “Baby’s First Christmas” and her name in glitter is peeling off, and Jon’s has a baseball playing bear on his. I bought beautiful matching stockings for all of us many years ago, they would have none of it. I love this about my children. Despite having an option for a bigger stocking, henceforth more goodies, they will stand firm in their tradition.

This year when we, who am I kidding, me, takes Christmas down and puts it away, I wonder if I will really throw away that stand, that is now adorned with duct tape, as though it were branded with my family crest? The thought of having a base that works perfectly next year, and all that we would have to do is put the tree in without incident, makes me shudder. Despite the yearly frustration, it is one guaranteed hour of quality time with my son. It is just he and I, working as a team on this pathetic stand, down on the carpet, with the dogs in our faces trying to help, while Emma flits around the house like a sugar plum fairy in her bliss. There are not many things that I get to do with my now almost 20 year old son, and this has become a yearly tradition that I look forward to. Maybe next year, we will do it differently, or perhaps not at all. Jon has been accepted into the Coast Guard and will leave for boot camp in New Jersey on May 6, 2014. I will so cherish this year's ritual, because he may not even be here next year for Christmas?

Happy holidays to all of you, and I hope you have something broken around your house so you too get to spend some quality time with the family fixing it. By the way, you can get duct tape at the Dollar Store. For me, that quality time, has been the greatest gift of all. May you have things to fix this year as a family.

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