To Tree or Not to Tree




By Liz Zuercher
By Liz Zuercher

We just moved into a smaller home and I can’t figure out where to put the Christmas tree.  I asked my husband, Gary, what he thought about one spot in the living room and he nixed it.

“It would block traffic,” he said. “We’d knock it over every time we walked into the room.  Don’t bother with a tree.  Just put a wreath above the fireplace.”

“Wouldn’t Eric be sad not to have a tree for Christmas?” I said.  My son, Eric, usually embraces family tradition.  Gary shrugged.  Obviously, it doesn’t make any difference to him, but I feel a duty to make a nice Christmas for everyone.  Shouldn’t that include a tree?

I get that from my mother.  She worked hard to make Christmas special for her family, something I never appreciated until I became a mother.  What used to be a fun holiday became a stressful task with a firm deadline.  There were little people with great expectations, and I couldn’t let them down.  But it was always worth the effort – the kids putting their special ornaments on the tree, seeing their faces on Christmas morning when they saw their presents under the tree, the whole family sitting around the tree unwrapping gifts, the kids playing with their new toys next to the tree.  See?  It all revolves around the tree.  How could we not have a tree?

I admit that in recent years, our Christmases have been out of the ordinary.  Our boys are now 30 something men.  Greg lives 2,000 miles away and rarely gets back for Christmas.  There are no grandchildren whose eyes light up on Christmas morning.  It’s become a low-key adult affair unbound by tradition except for the crab dip, sandbars, almond roca and lottery scratchers in our stockings.  We have a nice meal, then Gary naps while Eric and I tackle a puzzle and watch something on TV.  One year we watched a marathon of “Dexter.”  I call it the Christmas of Murder and Mayhem.

So, yes, we buck tradition.  We are the ones who have Chicago deep-dish pizza for Thanksgiving dinner after all, but to go without a Christmas tree?  Really?

I long ago ditched the real trees in favor of pre-lighted artificial ones.  The last real tree we had was 20 years ago when my sister and her family came from Colorado to spend the holidays with us.  That was one magnificent tree, made most memorable by the fact that our whole family gathered around it.

That’s the key, isn’t it?  It isn’t really about the trappings of Christmas.  It’s about the experiences shared with loved ones.  Gary would nod in agreement and tell me to 86 the tree.  But wouldn’t Eric be disappointed?

On Thanksgiving I asked Eric where he thought the tree should go.  He said, “Just forget the tree.”

Gary threw his arms above his head in victory and shouted, “Yes!  See?”

I felt defeated.  Had all my Christmas efforts been in vain?  Didn’t they care about any of it?

Then Eric said, “But, Mom, there’s no mantle on this fireplace.  Where will we hang the stockings?”

Ah, Christmas lives, with or without a tree.  But I’d sure better find a way to hang those stockings, the ones with the lottery scratchers.zuercher

Liz Zuercher writes fiction and personal essays.  She is a regular reader at DimeStories Laguna Beach and co-authors the blog Little Bit Everything in Tasty

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