A few Christmases ago, at the end of an extremely long day, I asked my son, snuggled exhausted beside me on the futon, what he thought his most forever-memorable moment of the past ten hours would be. I gave him three choices:
The correct answer: C. Allow me to explain.
First, you must know that to say I am not a fan of Christmas would be to say that the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t like water much. The truth is, I sincerely hate Christmas. I hate it for the usual reasons: the commercialization, the fact that people buy shitloads of sweatshop toys made in China to bestow upon demanding children, the fact that nobody really gives a crap what Jesus would do during any given normal time of the year but that during this time of the year, allegedly a celebration of the birth of the prince of peace, they’re ready to mow each other down in their SUVs to get the best parking spot at Walmart to buy twenty-nine dollar DVD players in the name of our lord, and the pressure everyone feels—no matter how tight their budget— to cough up an endless pile of presents, often for people they can’t stand.
I also hate Christmas because I suffer from seasonal affective disorder. And, okay, because I always managed to get sucked in, one way or the other, usually at the last minute, weeping as I hand some homeless guy a hot chocolate as I head over to see the 37th street lights or whipping down the aisles of HEB trying to do some last minute shopping, yes the very shopping I mock others for partaking in. (Leaving my kid with an array of picked-over crap from the "seasonal" aisle, some faux Tupperware, and—if he’s lucky—a twelve pack of toilet paper.)
So there I was, hating Christmas this one particular year. And I decided to hold an open house for friends like me—friends who didn’t want to celebrate or didn’t have family nearby or had families they hated or who were Jewish or pagan or maybe who just liked my no-turkey alternative cooking.
Now let’s back up a few days before this party. Some friends of mine called and mentioned that some other friends of ours were without a Christmas tree this year, seeing as all their cars had broken down and the husband was off burying his recently deceased father and isn’t it all too bad for the kids. Okay, while I myself hate the holiday, I respect the right of others to celebrate as much as they foolishly wish to. And so, hearing this tale, my savior complex fittingly kicking in, I decided to find a tree for these folks.
No aspiring superhero is complete without a sidekick and so I announced to Frenchy that she was being enlisted. Frenchy, as her name implies, is a Parisian friend of mine whose sentiments regarding this holiday make me seem like Mrs. Claus by comparison. She was at my house rewrapping gifts I’d received, in order to regift them to her ex’s live-in girlfriend. (Aside: here the tale gets exponentially complicated, the details saved for another day. Except for this one: as Frenchy was re-wrapping my Toblerone bar, in its telltale triangular box, the friend who’d given me this chocolate only an hour before popped by unexpectedly and caught us in the act.)
Frenchy promptly tells me how stupid I am and how stupid the holiday is and how stupid my plan is as I coerce her into my 1985 Subaru wagon and tell her we’ll just make "a few stops" to see what we can find. The Optimist Club tree lot on Lamar is closed for the night and the season— their Christmas trees all gone. So we cruise south of the river, south on Lamar, South First, looking looking. No Christmas trees. Frenchy is blowing streams of angry cigarette smoke into the air, "Zees is reedeeculous!" when I decide maybe we should give the Optimist lot one more look, check the trash.
Which is where we find them. A small herd of abandoned trees. Frenchy grabs the two-foot tall anorexic cousin of Charlie Brown’s tree. I tell her, no, not that one, this one, insisting she help me shove a thirteen foot tall beast into my hatchback. Though the station wagon is long, it’s not long enough. We ride with the hatch half open, the thick trunk some Berlin Wall in between us, prepared to rocket out the already cracked windshield should I hit the brakes too hard. As I giggle with delight at this score, Frenchy keeps on cursing.
At the home of my friends, we have a dilemma. The house is under renovation. Technically there is neither a front door nor back. We opt to sneak the enormous tree into the backyard, wondering if they’ll even see it there.
Then the original friend, who informed me of the treeless plight, says he’s got a plan. It is pitch black outside, plus the tree is obscured behind a fence, and so the story he tells our friends when he calls makes no sense, but somehow they fall for it. "I just walked by your house," he says. "And I notice you got a tree after all."
Knowing they will now discover our gift is an O. Henry moment for me. I am triumphant in my goal to feel useful and spread joy despite my own Yule cynicism.
Then comes Christmas night. Open house is winding down. The drunk yoga guy and his drunk roommates have taken their sacks of fifths and left. The Scattegories game ended long ago. The door knocks—it is our friends, they of the mystery tree. I can’t help it, I say, none too slyly, "So, y’all got a tree after all!"
Which is when I notice that these friends have been hitting the eggnog. Hard. The wife softly slurs her accusation: "You put that there, didn’t you?"
My denial is so weak I’m sure I’m setting off lie detectors four counties over. But she’s soused enough not to notice. My "no" means "no" to her. "You didn’t?" she asks.
This is good news for her. While their kids go off to see what Christmas treats Henry’s mom scored for him at midnight at HEB in the gardening and light bulb aisles, these folks sit down and confide in me.
"That tree!" they say. "What a piece of crap! We never saw such a pitiful tree! The thing was totally dead. We had to cut four feet off the top and four feet off the bottom. It was a one foot stump by the time we got done. And needles EVERYWHERE! How incredibly pathetic!"
I just sit there, not at all offended, but trying to control my facial expression and, more importantly, my bladder. If only Frenchy were here now (she’s out passing off my Toblerone bar as a well-thought gift) surely she’d blow my cover. I just hope whatever they’re drinking they’ve drunk enough to forget this entire conversation come morning.
Henry, when he hears, grins the grin of Tiny Tim post-corrective surgery to restore his legs to full usage. While other families might reminisce about big turkeys cooked to perfection, desperately desired gifts received, or magical midnight masses, our little family shall forever reminisce about that holiday we’ll never forget, O Tannebaum de Caca.
About the author:
Spike Gillespie is the author of All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy: A Memoir, the dotnovel thebelljar.net, and a collection of essays entitled, Surrender (but don't give yourself away): Old Cars, Found Hope and Other Cheap Tricks. Gillespie is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and her work has appeared in, among other places, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, GQ, Playboy and Elle, and online at Salon, Nerve, Oxygen, Underwire and AustinMama. She is a reformed circus poodle, a retired stripper (Crazy Lady, 1978-81) and mother to three spawn-of-satan mutts and one freakin' hilarious and very tall boy ("But remember, son, I'll always be wider than you..."). She is currently working on a novel about how utterly fucked up love can be (How novel indeed...).