Wednesday, November 23, 2005


It is the day before Thanksgiving and a pretty snow is falling here in Indianapolis. The stark overlap of fall and winter reminds me of a conversation my friend Lori, one of the marvelous McClains, and I had recently about holiday decorations. Lori believes, as do I that Christmas is important enough to warrant an atypical and exuberant creative expression.

Our latest talks have been not about the content of such an environment, but when to drag it out and put it up. I find it unfortunate that one must “drag” the Christmas out as if Norman Bates' mother is coming up from the basement for a visit. Nonetheless, the comparison is apt. All of the holiday beauties usually live in awkwardly sized boxes and tubs just an inch shy of being too big for one person to carry. So drag we must, at least some of them.

But back to when to pull them out. Anyone born before the 1980s probably remembers that awkward two weeks between Thanksgiving and the week or two prior to Christmas when the house was in holiday limbo. I remember having a discussion with my parents each year beginning the day after Thanksgiving. It went like this;

Me: “Can we put the tree up?”

Them: “No.”

(Repeat daily)

If any rationale accompanied such an exchange it usually was offered by my parents who would pull out the old saw, “when we were kids the tree went up the day before Christmas.” And indeed they had history on their side. Who can forget all of those melancholy-tinged carols and stories about holiday-starved kids trimming the tree on Christmas Eve? Typically, it was their parents who got to decorate the tree while the kids were locked in some other room until time for the big reveal. Very fun.

I now believe we have two things to blame for the late arrival of Christmas trees in the past-no electricity and no decent looking artificial trees. Without electricity, trees had to be lit with candles and minimizing risk must have been a priority. So you lit the tree once, prayed those candles stayed put, and took the tree down soon after. Even the early electric lights were only so safe. House fires were common.

When I was in Lowe's last week I noticed that I did not see a single one of those bushy bottlebrush tree. Artificial trees have come a long way. When I was growing up in the 70s we had a plastic tree. It was green and full, but it was plastic. I didn't care. I liked it. You know why? Because it didn't matter when we put it up! My parents had removed the lynchpin of logic they used to delay decorating, and I knew it. Thomas Edison had done the rest of the work for me decades earlier.

Artificial trees have come a long way. Ours today looks too “perfect” to really fool anyone, and I'm okay with that. In fact, I feel the most honest artificial trees are the aluminum ones. They flaunt rather than hide their fakeness. Or do they just become something besides a tree all together? I can't decide, but I do like them. Unfortunately, like many modern pieces, I'm not sure they work visually in our home.

I keep telling myself that one day we'll have a real tree. But then I start looking at our holiday calendar. We host John's mom's cookie bake the first week in December. We don't really have time to be still and enjoy the peaceful part of the season until after Christmas. No real tree would last that long without us having to replant it at some point.

What I'm watching with interest now are the days before Thanksgiving and after New Years. This year a neighbor was in full-blown exterior décor a week before Thanksgiving. That seemed strange to me. Lori and I decided that inside decoration before T-giving is fine. That is more like getting the stage set before the curtain goes up.

Then there is always the whispered-about house that leaves their Christmas lights up until March (or year round!). Recently, however, I have come to feel that winter is so long, having a few extra lights around is not such a bad idea. I now use the excuse that we are celebrating Chinese New Year. For some reason I think white lights make more sense when extending the season. But this year I'm using colored lights outside to make up for what feels to me like a certain lack of color in the world right now. We'll see if my convictions about taking them down “on time” hold true.


Anonymous David said...

I just don't know what to say except, "You're the best Troy." We used to go to Cooper's OK Hardware in Stylesville, IN and buy our Christmas tree. My Dad would buy us a bag of candy too. Then we would haul the tree home and let it "breathe" outside overnight. Then we got to put it up the next day. Thanks for the memories to all this year!

7:19 AM  
Anonymous kara said...

Troy, do you remember the Christmas at Center Hill when we got sleds and there was snow too? The four of us had so much fun sledding in the...ditch! A close second would have to be the year the pond was frozen solid and we "skated" which was hard to do in shoes! We'll miss ya'll on Thanksgiving...

8:13 AM  
Blogger Troy said...

I do remember that Christmas. I think the four of us sledded down the ditch in our pajamas! And didn't Butch crack the six inches of ice (but not his head) when he fell on the pond? Eat some turkey for me!

9:18 AM  
Blogger juliebelle said...

i seem to recall begging mom and dad to put up a tree even up to the day before christmas....

the acquisition of the tree stands out in my mind more than the finished product. we'd traipse down the fencerow for the perfect tree. then we'd hack it down with a chainsaw, hitch it to the back of the tractor, and drag it through the pastures to the house. inevitably, we'd have dragged the tree through a couple of cowpiles, so we'd have to hose it off before it could come into the house. and inevitably, the tree grew from the time we chopped it down to the time that we made it to the front door. after hacking away at its stem for a couple of hours and leveling it solidly with wood scraps into a 5-gallon feedbucket (no tilt), we'd proudly bring it, dripping, into it's rightful home front and center in our foyer. adorned with homemade felt and glitter decorations and topped with a star that dad traced from a KFC box and covered with aluminum foil when mom and dad first married (b/c there was no money for ornaments), the mcclain christmas tree just couldn't have been more perfect....the promise of gifts, the fragrance of the season, the twinkling of hope for a new year...what delight!

we've come a long way from dung-covered trees. happy holidays, troy.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Cuz said...

My best memory is of Grandad cutting the tree either the day before we all showed up or sometimes even the morning of. When he was especially creative he might even flock it before he put those gigantic burn-the-house down bulbs on it. Even though the tree might not be the prettiest it was always the best… there were always four bags of fireworks hidden inside it somewhere. I think Butch cracking the 12 inches of ice happened when we got older. I remember a bunch of is getting in Grandad’s flat bottom boat and sailing across the ice.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Troy said...

Julie, Lori says that David and Chuck make Stacy and Carey put KFC stars on their trees. I think that is hilarious and very sweet.

12:48 PM  

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