This year, my family finally relented: we bought a plastic Christmas tree.
When I say “my family,” of course, I really mean “my grandparents.” My immediate family, due to the fact that my mother is Jewish, has never had a Christmas tree. (We also used to celebrate Hanukkah at Thanksgiving. I had a religiously confusing childhood.) So every year that I can remember up until now, we have gone to my grandparents’ house and decorated the shedding fir tree in which between one and three cats have nested.
The whole week around Christmas is the most heavily-ritualized time of the year for me. The tree is the kick-off. Later on there’s a family viewing of the lights in the town square, then a singalong on Christmas Eve before we do presents Christmas morning. In between, there is ongoing gossip about people my dad went to high school with. We eat divinity and fudge. (Divinity is like fudge if you abandoned all pretense and just made it out of corn syrup. On a related note, my grandmother is from Alabama.) There are obligatory references to state and local Democratic politics, and there is a three-Clinton-reference quota.
Changes to this setup are not usually welcomed. By which I mean, on years when we change the type of fudge (not a candy with a subtle flavor!) there is grumbling. When we decide to vary from the approved Christmas play list, there are Piercing Glances. Changes in the present distribution system (and, this year, the loss of chocolate oranges in the stockings) nearly led to open revolt.
So you can imagine the tension that was in the room when my dad called to let us know that every single live Christmas tree in the county appeared to have been purchased already. Ideas were tossed around: could we wire together loose pieces of greenery from my grandparents’ property in order to make some sort of tree effigy? (The answer, for the curious, is no.)
Finally, we decided that we would do the unthinkable: we gave my dad the go-ahead to buy a plastic tree. And he did, for $30 (half off!) at Big Lots, which everyone agrees is like Walmart but just a little sadder.
And it turns out that the tree is not half bad! It is seven feet tall and smells like it might be made of lead, true, but once we bent all the branches and hung the bajesuston of ornaments that constitutes the traditional tree trimmings, it was fine. We got to bond while fanning the branches out and avoiding the lethal combination of a Great Dane and two toddlers. There was dancing to bad lounge music. My sister introduced everyone to (and horrified everyone with) SnapChat, and I dug out the now-faceless Santa effigy candle. It was fine. Viva la Christmas!