As I think is true of many people, my Christmas lights philosophy comes straight from my father. It doesn’t matter if the lights are one color or multicolored or even if they match. What matters is that there should be a lot of them. My dad’s theory is that if it isn’t potentially visible from space, it’s not Christmas. I can’t say whether the transmission of this philosophy is nature or nurture, but it feels closely related to other things my dad passed on to me, like a love of heat and fires and some goddamn decent water pressure.
Something my dad tried to pass on to me that didn’t stick is tree identification. When I was a kid, my dad ordered hundreds of saplings through the mail every year, mostly evergreens, that he lovingly planted and cared for through the spring and summer. Sometimes I’d go out with him while he was planting, and he’d talk to me about how you could tell the difference between one tree and the next, but none of it stayed with me even beyond the conversation. At the time, I just liked being outdoors and seeing what my dad was up to, since there were always good odds he might be talked into starting a bonfire. And so now every year when I go get my Christmas tree, I look at the labeled rows thinking that what I want is a nice tree, but I am unable to articulate what a nice tree is.
Since I moved to the city, I get my trees from the Boy Scout lot at the end of my street. I get my friend Jason to come help carry it and set it up, and it’s become an annual test of strength for him. Last year, he attempted to carry the tree upstairs by himself and wound up sinking to the floor like an elevator on the landing, shouting, “I can’t move!” That was a funny story I liked to tell that irritated him for a few months, but then the other night when he was walking down the road with this year’s tree slung over his shoulder, he laughed about it, “Remember how I got stuck under the tree on your stairs last year?”
Time always changes a story.
This year, our friend Kevin came to help, as did Jason’s wife Amy, as we were combining this venture with a night out. Jason and Amy had been spatting, which I believe is another important part of the Christmas tree process–a little tension among loved ones in the air–and we were all talking about everything but Christmas trees on our walk over to the lot. We were the only customers there when we arrived, and so a Boy Scout came straight up to us and asked if he could help. I am not by nature a person who asks for help ever, but I have been working on changing this thing about myself, and so I said, “Yes, I need a tree. Do you have a favorite tree here?”
The Boy Scout was maybe 12 and was stymied by this question for a moment. Then he said, “I like these ones,” and he took me to a row of trees whose name (sorry, Dad!) I can’t remember, but the first tree I saw was the one I wound up bringing home.
I strung the tree up with lights this morning, about eight strands in a bunch of colors and shapes. I feel like it could use another string or two, and I was thinking maybe I could make an effort to get lights that match, but the truth is that the 12-year-old picked out a nice tree for me, and it is bright and peaceful here in my living room. So much of the holiday season causes me anxiety, but there is something satisfying about bringing a tree indoors and filling it with light and color. My hands are sticky with sap I can’t scrub off, I have a cup of tea, and my cats are nearby snoring. I’ll read and bake cookies this afternoon until it’s time to go out for a concert at the church next to the Boy Scout lot, and then it will be more reading with the cats by the light of the tree.
Some days I feel like what I have here is everything I’ll ever need.