I can still see the sheet--torn and wrinkled, held together with yellowing tape. I can picture the battered box containing the limbs, and I can vividly recall the fire drill that ensued as we eagerly grouped them--long, medium and short reds, long, medium and short yellows, long, medium and short blues, and long, medium and short whites. My mom left the grouping to us, while she masterminded the kitchen, rolling, and stirring and icing, sending waves of cinnamon, chocolate and hazelnut throughout the rooms, rewarding our tree-constructing efforts the moment those scrumptious concoctions cooled. And as the four of us worked to transform the house with sights and smells, Christmas music hummed in the background--sometimes, Barry Manilo, sometimes, James Taylor, and if I got my say--sometimes, the Chipmonks.
Looking back, I'm quite certain my father probably didn't enjoy the tree building process quite as much as me, but he indulged us. Always pretending to be excited, always donning the spirit we so looked forward to seeing. I recall loving every single minute. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, I remember loving it more than any other part of December. Christmas morning belonged to my early-waking brother, but calling out the arrangement, orchestrating the moves, finding the perfect branch for the perfect spot, and then adding the ornaments one-by-one--those directives belonged to me. I loved fussing with the complicated ones--setting Kermit's ice skates evenly on the tinsel, plugging in Santa's workshop, and hooking up the train--and I loved smiling over the silly ones I made in pre-school. I loved the satisfaction of seeing our tree rise from broken pieces strew haphazardly into a box, and I enjoyed the tingling that ensued once the long band of lights blared with the force of electricity and tenderness.
Though most of my friends had real trees, we had an artificial one throughout my entire childhood. Apparently, I broke out in a terrible rash as a child, so this artificial tree experienced every single move and every single Christmas with us. It never shed needles, it never rotted, and it never headed out to the trash once the holiday ended. This tree simply came apart, crawled into a box, and waited for us to call upon its brilliance the following year.
Even though I loved that tree, the moment my doctor confirmed that I outgrew my allergy and could function just fine with a real tree in my house, I promptly set aside my adoration for artificial constructions. I turned, instead, to Christmas tree lots and deep, damp, whiffs of evergreen, excitedly purchasing my first real tree three Christmases ago. Just as I enjoyed my childhood tree, I thoroughly enjoyed that one, decorating her with care, watering her with love, and sitting beneath her for hours, admiring every last needle.
Last night, at midnight, I gazed up at the tree my husband and I had just finished decorating. While it might seem absurd that we pulled into the Tremont Center parking lot at roughly 8 p.m. last night to find a tree, and it might seem even more absurd that we stayed up to midnight to decorate it, neither of us could let the tree sit bare. It looked so lonely in the corner, begging us to cover its wet, muddy branches with lights, balls, stars and dancing reindeer--and we just could not resist.
I went to bed thinking my compulsion was because of the "finisher" complex I seem to frequently battle, but today, I decided it was really something else. Today, I decided that I wanted to act for the same reason I loved the torn, wrinkled piece of paper held together with yellowing tape, and the battered box stuffed with droves of color-coded limbs. I wanted to see the tree rise, I wanted to watch it glow and I wanted to witness it wrap the entire room like a blanket.