Column: Christmas with the McGuires

The annual debate: When to get the tree

Categories: Life & Arts, Sports

The perennial debate, usually commencing as the last of the fall leaves fall, centers on the Christmas tree.

Not the type of tree. We all want big, angel-scraping-her-head-on-the-ceiling big, and full, taking up a large corner of the living room.

And real. Don’t get me started on fake trees, although I’m not saying you’re bad people if you get one.

(Yes, I am.)

No, it’s when to get the tree.

“Dec. 24,” my wife says, invoking the magic of Santa, with the whole scene — the tree, the gifts, the lights — being revealed for the first time as one on Christmas morn.

That is never happening. By Christmas Eve, any assortment that is left for sale is more kindling than tree, destined for the wood chipper. Charlie Brown’s tree would seem like a centuries-old redwood by comparison.

“Dec. 15,” says the younger daughter, about to celebrate her first Christmas as a teenager. “There’s plenty of Christmas trees, and they’re fresh, and you don’t have to worry about getting one late.”

The youngest one is the practical one. She often gets what she wants, if only because she is often right.

“Dec. 1,” says the older daughter, who just entered her 20s. “December reminds me of red.”

You just roll with non-sequiturs in our house.

“Like Target?”


Now me? I want the tree the moment the last dish is done from Thanksgiving dinner. The youngest hates that Thanksgiving gets short-shrifted in the festive holiday season. I agree. I also hate that I’m never going to get that bacon-latticed Thanksgiving turkey that I’ve asked for since 2007.

Continuing somewhere between the last Thanksgiving dish taken off the table and the Black Friday breakfast of warm leftover apple pie and ice cream — that’s called situational parenting, folks — it’s OK to turn the page to Christmas.

And get your tree.

If you are reading this and our tree has not already been in place a week or two, then I will have lost the battle again. Still. Whatever. I’m used to it. House full of women and all — down to the dog. We are not sure about the turtle, but he/she never takes my side anyway.

Growing up, the tree went up early — and was a production, thanks to a living room that extended two stories. It was massive, needing an outdoor and indoor ladder to decorate. You know how you always worry on the drive home whether your tree is still secure on the roof? You could see ours hanging over the front hood. And back hood. And sides.

The ornaments were an eclectic mishmash — a tradition my family holds onto, incorporating some of the vintage ornaments that survived my youth. The balls, stars and other hanging objects, homemade and bought and passed down, depict where we vacationed, and my sports teams, and our kids and other family members. The ugly ones go in the back to take up space — except for creepy drummer boy from the 1960s: He’s up front. The lights are multi-colored.

The tree never looks exactly the same year-to-year. (Seriously, fake tree people, I don’t get you.)

Getting the tree is a family deal, though we defer to the youngest to make the final choice in our price range. (Again, she is the practical one.) Putting the tree up is a two-person operation that involves carefully calibrating tree, stand and a wavy hardwood floor. The basic formula: crooked + crooked = illusion of straight.

Decorating involves everyone until the kids get bored with the process and the Vince Guaraldi Trio soundtrack and wander off.

I take down the tree sometime around the college football championship game.

Then I vacuum. And vacuum again. And another date: June 5. The day the last of the tree needles get picked up.

And I start thinking about how good the tree is going to look in that corner.

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