The first Christmas Bob and I spent together as a married couple was in 2004, when we were still recovering from our wedding and honeymoon two months prior. I remember being in a post-big-life-event fog during that holiday season. I definitely don’t remember decorating or putting up a tree. I know we didn’t have any vacation time left so I’m pretty sure we just worked our way through the holiday.
On December 25, 2005, we were five days away from welcoming Henry. I couldn’t even trim my own toenails let alone decorate for Christmas. My best friend and her husband tried to convert my bah humbug spirit by delivering Christmas to our doorstep. Bob and I watched her drive up to the front of our house in a pickup with her husband – dressed in full Santa suit – standing in the truck bed supporting a freshly cut tree. It was still there when we brought Henry home from the hospital and that memory, of the deep generosity of friends, is a favorite.
We spent Henry’s first Christmas, in 2006, in Louisville. The decorations were sparse since we were heading out of town. I do remember putting up a tiny Charlie Brown tree in our living room that we celebrated around before hitting the holiday road. There may have been a few colored lights strung on our front stoop but not much else.
As the 2007 holiday season approached, I decided it was time to commit to a grown-up tree. We were spending that Christmas at home and my mom had recently gifted me with a couple of boxes of ornaments that had adorned the trees I grew up with. I wanted to start a new tradition at our own home with our own tree. Plus, the approximately seventeen Care Bear ornaments my mom bequeathed to me deserved to be on display.
At around the same time I decided to find us a tree, Bob started working on a new project at the office; a conference that would fall directly after the Thanksgiving holiday. His working hours became brutal and I knew we would be lucky if he were home on Thanksgiving day at all. The whole event was very stressful and rushed and hush-hush, as those high-level things always are and more than anything, I just remember how unbelievably tired Bob was at the end of every day.
During one of the Saturdays Bob spent at the office during the month of November, Henry and I headed out to find a Christmas tree. I had hatched a plan to procure the tree, store it in my next door neighbor’s garage, set it up, light it up and surprise Bob with our first family Christmas tree as he arrived home the day after Thanksgiving.
“We can DO THIS,” I exclaimed to Henry as I plopped him in the shopping cart at Lowe’s.
Henry and I walked up and down the aisles of the holiday section marveling at all of the decorations and tree options and gasping a little bit at the prices. Then, as if set aside JUST for us, I spotted a couple of random boxes of pre-lit trees set on a pallet away from the others. They were the right size (7.5 feet), had white lights pre-strung (my favorite!) and were for some reason incredibly affordable (I think they were left over from the Christmas season prior). We had found our tree!
Some serious cart and car negotiations followed, trying to pay for and secure the oversized box in our little Subaru, but we made it home and safely stashed our awesome find at the house next door.
The day after Thanksgiving, during Henry’s nap time, I dragged that tree box back to our house and got to work. It was super easy to put together and I distinctly remember being so confident and smugly satisfied as I stepped on the foot pedal that would illuminate my triumph. So, it was appropriate then, that one entire section of the tree remained unlit when I flipped the switch.
The more life-experienced me of 2013 would laugh at the poor coping skills of 2007 me because, I’ll admit here, I panicked. And naturally, I burst into tears. That’s just what I do. Then, I composed myself enough to call the General Electric help line I found in the instructions and they expertly talked me down off the ledge. The fix was easy. I located the rogue bad bulb and the tree lit up with the shimmer of a thousand suns.
The surprise that evening was indeed a surprise! Bob rode up to our home on his bicycle well after dark and found the front window of our home all aglow with our first ever Christmas tree. It was perfect.
A new tradition was begun that year and every year since, we have decorated for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. I haul that same huge box down from the attic and set up that same tree and decorate it with those same Care Bear ornaments. I love doing it and I love that tree.
And, each Christmas since 2007, the lights on that tree have worked with less and less reliability. It started with a few bulbs here and there but by 2011, a huge mid-section of our tree was dark as night. I spent a few days last year troubleshooting but, eventually, I finally conceded that my beloved tree was dying. No amount of plug tightening or bulb replacing or encouraging words could coax the lights back on.
Leading up to this year’s post-Thanksgiving Christmas decorating day, Bob and I debated what to do with our tree. He was in favor of scrapping it and purchasing something new. But, I have a penchant for sentimentality and therefore his idea made me super sad. This tree was a special tree, from a special time in our lives, when we lived in a special place. I was having trouble letting go.
So, I hatched a new plan. A plan to, essentially, save Christmas. We would take the tree out of storage a couple of days before Thanksgiving and de-string the lights. What a great idea! This would be easy! See how much sense this makes, BOB? We could keep the tree that I love and just re-string it with new lights! His enthusiasm for this approach was… questionable.
When the day was upon us and we were staring at the tree and its hundreds upon hundreds of lights and wires, it seemed like a less good idea. Apparently, pre-lit trees tend to have those lights pretty much soldered on. They run them up and down the branches with clips and wires and everything else needed for maximum light concentration so they can, I guess, successfully burn your retinas when plugged in.
Knowing it would require some patience didn’t quite prepare us for the two days of two-person work with two wire cutters that was required to remove all of those pre-strung lights. I walked into the family room on Thanksgiving Day, after getting the turkey in the oven, to find Bob and my father, with hunched-over backs and cramping hands, among piles and piles of cut wire and burned out bulbs. But, once they had committed, they COMMITTED. They refused to give up or give in and they ultimately persevered.
So, our family Christmas tree lives to shed fake needles another day. I re-strung it with white lights and began hanging ornaments with the kids. It wasn’t until Millie promptly broke, like, three glass globes that I realized decorating the tree with the kids was an even worse idea than de-stringing it. And, when Henry and I finally got the ornaments up after the little ones went to bed, nary an old bulb or wire could be found.