This is, by far, the busiest time of the year for Nate and me. We both participate (at varying levels) in the Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco every year. We spend every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas dressing up and pretending to be people that we’re not (and every weekend between Halloween and Thanksgiving preparing to spend every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas pretending to be people we’re not). We also regularly work ridiculous hours (him more than me), have holiday events for our workplaces, and in general, see each other just long enough to cuddle briefly before falling into bed. The following morning, we cuddle even more briefly, bemoan that we never see one another, and then go to work. For a season that is theoretically about family, we never see ours.
Despite this, we love Christmas, even if we’re both trying vainly to shove in Christmas cheer into the spaces that are otherwise nearly lost. We have a tub full of Christmas decorations, vast collections of Christmas music, sing Christmas carols to one another, and shop online for Christmas gifts for our friends and loved ones because who has time to go to brick and mortar stores to shop? Not us, certainly.
(This is not to say that we’re Christian. Neil Gaiman wrote once about being Jewish and yet lobbying for a Christmas tree as a child as he had never lobbied for anything before or since. That sort of resonates with us because, while not being Jewish, we had the sorts of upbringings that mostly precluded the Christ-bits of Christmas. Why should pagan traditions be barred to us because we’re vaguely spiritual (on his side) atheists with nihilistic (on my side) and secular humanist tendencies (both of us).)*
Sunday nights are especially hard because once we have stopped pretending to be other people at Dickens, we still need to strip out of our things say our goodbyes to our friends, drive almost an hour home, and soak our feet after being on them almost continuously on the hardest surface on the planet for eight to ten hours at a stretch. Mondays aren’t much better as we both work, and thus it happened that on Monday, December 12, Nate came home at the reasonable hour of almost 8pm, and we had the following conversation:
Nate (no sooner than he’s through the door): “I’ve brought home Indian food and we should go get our Christmas tree!”
You may not know this about me, but I dislike Indian food. I sort of tolerate it on a good day, and after a weekend of hard work, my feet killing me, and a day spent fantasizing about my bed, the last thing I want is to suffer through my dinner. But we are running on little time before I will turn into a pumpkin, and I’m starving. So, being the grown adult that I am, I pouted.
Me: “I don’t wanna. Can we get the Christmas tree later this week?”
This isn’t quite the longest week on record for Nate, but he wisely pointed out that this is probably the only time we’re going to have to get the tree. (This turned out to be true. The very next night he worked 18 hours, came home and slept for four, then worked between 12 and 16 hours each following day until Friday.) I dragged myself off the sofa with the stipulation that I’ll only do this if we can get ice cream, and we went out and looked for a tree.
Last year, we got a tree from our local Lucky grocery store, which seemed to be a reasonably decent tree, although a bit old by the time we got it. It dropped needles like nothing I’d ever seen before, but it seemed to do the trick well enough, by which I mean it sat in a corner, gamely let itself be laden with lights and ornaments and bows, and allowed us to put gifts underneath it. I mean, really, how much more do you need a tree to do?
We decided to give the Lucky a try again. We marched up to the fenced-in area and started looking at trees. Most were too tall for our short ceiling, so we bypassed those entirely and looked at a couple others that looked a little bit like they’d been dragged backwards through a doggie door.
Me: “This is sort of pathetic.”
Nate agreed and we trudged to the back corner where we found a tree standing practically by itself. It looked reasonably decent until we went around to the back and saw the enormous gaping hole in its branches.
Nate: “Maybe we should try to find another tree…”
Me: “If we don’t take this tree home, it will stay here until Christmas eve. No one will love this tree. It’s our duty to give this tree a good home.”
Nate: “I guess we can put it against the wall…”
Me: “Yes! No one will ever see that side.”
Random lady who is also looking at trees: “What a good tree! That hole is where you put those enormous paper plate ornaments that your kids make in the second grade and which you keep forever.”
Me: “Er. Exactly. I’m pretty sure my mom has some of those ornaments still.”**
Nate, warming to the idea: “Yes! We all have those large, difficult to display ornaments!”
Random lady: “My son, the trained killer, keeps asking me why I keep putting them on the tree. I like to remember him when he was younger. Well, have a good holiday. I think I’ll come back tomorrow when I can really see the trees.”
Nate’s eyes met mine and we nodded to one another briskly.
Nate: “So. This tree?”
Me: “I’ll just go pay for it.”
Which is how we got a tree that did not go to a woman whose son is a trained killer and have just now, a week later, managed to decorate.
*I love parenthetical asides. And also footnotes.
**Mom, if you do still have those sorts of ornaments, I hope you’re not keeping them around for sentimental reasons.