When I was little, my father would supervise while my brothers, sister, and I decorated the family Christmas tree. Though plastic or aluminum trees were all the rage in the '60s, we always had a real tree, the intoxicating smell of pine filling the downstairs of our New Jersey home. He would sit back in his leather butterfly chair, a gin and tonic in one hand, his omnipresent pipe in the other, and direct us in tinsel application as if he were conducting a symphony, the cherrywood pipe floating through the air like a baton.
We had to put the lead tinsel on the branches one strand at a time. Whenever his attention would wander we would fling fistfuls up at the branches in front of us, and then when he looked back, resume our single strand application. He always noticed though.
Despite the tight restrictions, it was a festive time, the turntable spilling out carols into the evening air, my mother baking in the kitchen, and my siblings actually being nice to me.
In spite of the promises we make ourselves that we will not recreate our parents' irritating habits, they sometimes pop up like weeds. When I got my first apartment, I was so excited about creating my own Christmas tree without the restrictions of my family traditions. My Brooklyn apartment was decorated almost entirely in mauve and cream and I spent that November carefully choosing and purchasing tasteful Victorian-style ornaments that matched my home. By mid-December I had the perfect tree; it looked as if I had walked out of Gimbel’s seasonal department hauling it over my shoulder in its entirety, lace trailing behind. I moved the ornaments with me to Vermont, and continued to collect pieces appropriate to the theme.
When I had my son, I considered how I would adapt the handmade ornaments he would undoubtedly come home from day care with to my carefully maintained tree design. For his second Christmas I installed a small tree in his room, complete with his own child-friendly ornaments (a transportation theme… scary, huh?) and twinkling primary colored lights. My son showed no interest in his little tree, though, gravitating towards the larger one in the living room with its monochromatic white lights. He would sit on the rug and joyfully rearrange the carefully placed ornaments. After he went to bed I would return the tree to its pristine state.