We got our tree home on Saturday, placed it in the stand, added water, did the necessary vacuuming of needles, and then called it a day (as far as the tree was concerned).
On Sunday we got as far as stringing the lights but no further. At this point we were feeling good about our tree selection.
From Sunday to Wednesday the tree stood bare except for the tiny colored lights. It looked really good though, appealing to my minimalist tendencies. In my head, I thought about how nice it would be to just not bother with the ornaments (I always have to do them by myself, and then Dawn critiques the layout). At one point, Dawn said, “We should just be really different this year and not put any ornaments on the tree. It looks so good the way it is.” (I have now picked up on this pattern: Dawn articulates out loud the things I think in my head).
On Wednesday, after I left Dawn and Levi in his room for bedtime, I went out to the garage and grabbed the ladder. I slid the box of ornaments over to the tree and got to work. I felt the pressure of societal norms when it comes to Christmas trees: they are decorated with ornaments that is how it has to be. (For a writer and self-proclaimed “free thinker,” I disappoint myself often with how easily I slip into these truly noncritical ways of thinking. While I encourage (beg even) my students to “think outside the box,” I frequently remain firmly locked inside it. Someday I’ll have to tell the bench/TV stand story…).
Since the tree looked good in its simple form, I decided to keep on going with that minimalist look. While I didn’t have the resources for one of those beautifully styled trees with color themes, and ribbons, and matching ornaments, I decided to attempt “styling” what lay in the box in front of me. I created three categories: balls, stars, and candy canes. If the ornament didn’t fall into one of these three categories, then it didn’t belong on my minimalist-styled tree! I sorted through all our ornaments, carefully selecting the ornaments that made the cut. This technique seemed potentially effective, as it left the tree still pretty bare looking. I added some strings of red and silver beads (of which we didn’t really have enough to fully cover the tree) and stepped back to take a look. My heart fell. The tree had indeed looked better with only the lights on it!
I argued back and forth with myself over whether I should strip the tree back to its previously lovely state. I left the ladder where it was and decided to ask Dawn what she thought I should do.
“The tree looks great,” she said, when she reached the bottom of the stairs. I was shocked. First of all, she never says the tree looks great after I put up the ornaments; second, the tree did not look great. It looked better before. Fatigue got the better of me (I was just so over the damn tree at that point), and I decided to put away the ladder and boxes and try to accept the odd looking tree as another imperfect moment in my life.
Last night a friend was over. She admired the tree, and we had a great conversation about tree decorating (yes, she’s one of those kinds of friends with whom even a silly conversation about tree decorating can be great!). She told me that her belief is that a Christmas tree looks lovely in all its various states of dress, but that it only gets better the more you put on it. Having grown up in a structured Christmas tree decorating home, she described how she revels in the freedom to put whatever she wants on her tree in whatever fashion she chooses. All Christmas trees, she insisted, look perfect however they are decorated (or not). And I chose to believe her.