It’s always something, as Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say.
The Virginia Marshalls joined two families with intense Christmas traditions, centered on elaborately decorated Christmas trees. The Marshalls of Massachusetts collected ornaments and antique tinsel, and their trees really shined with the lights off. When on, the Christmas tree lights were the old-fashioned large bulbs, and muli-colored. The Bowens, of the Washington, D.C. area, in contrast, were lights-obsessed. Every Christmas season, Mrs, Bowen decorated a large, very realistic artificial tree with thousands of small white lights. For 40 years, our household has maintained a hybrid tradition: real trees, thousands of small, multicolored lights, hundreds of ornaments of all sizes, themes and ages, and no tinsel.Our trees must be at least eight feet high, with strong branches and tough needles. Most of our trees have been Frasier Firs, with an occasional Douglas Fir or Noble Fir; twice, when I was in a masochistic mood, we used Blue Spruce trees, and I was nearly prickled to death.
In recent years, we’ve let our next door neighbor of the full 40 years pick out our tree. (I recently wrote about Red and Beth here.) He has sold Christmas trees for his church all that time, and he knows what we need and like—or always has in the past. But yesterday he left leaning against our house some kind of pine with long needles, soft branches: the furthest thing from a fir tree imaginable. It is, my wife thinks, the same kind of tree his wife Beth likes, but it won’t work with the traditional Marshall decorations. My wife is upset, and I’m not thrilled either: I have to put on the lights, and I don’t see how this tree will hold the usual number of strings.
I called Red, and thanked him convincingly, asking what he was charging this year. As usual, it’s about half what we would have to pay anywhere else. I asked, hinting that we might have two trees this year, if he had any Frasier Firs on the lot. “Don’t have any trees at all, now!,’ he said. “Sold out in just two days!” Then he told me to let him know when we were going to set up the tree, because it’s so heavy, and because he always slices off the bottom of the trunks of the trees he gets us. Grace thinks he may have forgotten what kind of tree we always have; after all, Red just turned 80.
The options we’re come up with so far:
- Give the tree to my son and his girlfriend as a gift, and buy a the right kind of tree for ourselves. Downsides: 1) the kids were going to finally help with decorating out tree this year, and a separate tree relegates them to their own apartment. 2) That’s an extra $200 down the drain.
- Tell Red we’re very grateful, but it was the wrong kind of tree, and we’re not going to use it, but we’ll pay for it. Downside: Knowing him, he won’t accept payment, and his feelings will be hurt.
- Go full sitcom: have him set up the tree, then secretly replace it, give his tree away or dump it, and spend the holidays making sure he and his wife never see our real tree. Downsides: 1) That extra $200; 2) It involves lying, and 3) I’ve seen enough “I Love Lucy” and “Frasier” episodes to know these schemes never work.
- Suck it up and do our best to make the tree Red got for us work, and just accept the hassle and the disappointment, because in the end, people and relationships are more important than traditions and Christmas trees.
I know what you’re all going to say…