My Controversial Christmas Tree

Three weeks before Christmas in the year 2000, I browsed through the Crate and Barrel catalog for ornaments, tree skirts, and garlands. They were so gorgeous that I longed to buy them. Brand new holiday trimmings might get me in the mood for decorating, which had always been my husband’s job. He liked it. I had never enjoyed embellishing a package, a room, or a tree of any kind. Part of my lackluster attitude was the temporary nature of the activity—so much work to be enjoyed for such a short time. But now, visions of Christmas décor danced like sugarplum fairies in my head.

With no trouble I convinced my daughter-in-law, a “born-again” shopper, to accompany me to the Crate and Barrel store in the new upscale mall called Santana Row. We wasted no time and drove,  parked, and shopped; scooping up one satin tree skirt, two velvet pillows, three chains of garland, and a basketful of red and gold balls.

The next stop was Target in an old downscale mall on Hillsdale to purchase new lights. The choices were many: transparent, opaque, tiny, large, green, white, purple, and red. I voted for tiny red lights and a shiny gold ball to crown the top. I could hardly wait to start dressing it.

Excitement overtook me as I wound five boxes of red lights from the top to the bottom of my first Christmas tree while living alone. By the time it was laden with red and gold baubles, my enthusiasm had become my passion. I didn’t feel alone any more. It felt like my deceased husband was kicking my butt saying, “Snap out of it”–like Cher said to Nicholas Cage in the movie, Moonstruck. I couldn’t believe how intensely I was enjoying something I had previously disliked. That evening, to get the full effect, I turned off all but the tree lights so the only thing visible was the glowing red triangle in my living room picture window.  It was spectacular.

To view it from a distance, I stepped outside into the cold night air, then to the middle of the street and then across the street to my neighbor’s front yard.  From afar, my tree was breathtaking compared to the white lights that most people used. White Christmas tree lights represented the children’s choir and red Christmas tree lights symbolized me singing the Hallelujah Chorus all by myself.

I anticipated wholehearted admiration for such a distinctive tree. Instead, the responses were varied and emotional:

  • “It’s so red.”
  • “I LOVE IT! It’s romantic and sensuous.”
  • To be honest, your tree wigged me out.”
  • “I think it’s warm and inviting.”
  • “It’s out of place and doesn’t fit.”
  • “It makes me feel good.”
  • “It’s a cross between beautiful and scary.”
  • “Uhm…is it radioactive?”

There wasn’t a single neutral comment. My best friend said, “Betty, doesn’t it bother you that your tree has generated so much controversy?”

“Not at all. I love the attention my crimson tree has created.”

It was the truth. Finally, I cared about a Christmas tree like I had never cared for one before. And decorating it had lifted my spirits. I intended to defend my creation against those who didn’t appreciate that it was just a little bit different. I liked being near it. During the day, I turned on the red lights and curled up in an overstuffed chair near its branches to savor long detailed Christmas letters that usually bored me to death. At night, I sat across from its warm glow in the darkened living room and listened to Christmas carols. I was at peace and dreaded the time to dismantle it because I would miss what it had done for me.

Proof of my fondness for the bright red thing came when I opened a gift from my daughter-in-law, the “born-again shopper.” Inside the bag were five new red and gold ornaments to add to the others we had just purchased. I was so touched by her gift that my eyes watered. It was like giving birth to my first baby and receiving gifts of clothing to cover its nakedness.

After the New Year, I’ll undress the tree, but I won’t toss the new adornments into any old box. I plan to store them in their original packages with such care that they will look just as nice next year as they do now. And perhaps the dissenters will adjust to its smoldering radiance. Eventually they’ll realize that I intend to defend those scarlet globes until they burn out—and I’ll replace them when that happens. The red Christmas tree lights are here to stay. I glow just thinking about them.

from Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood by Betty Auchard

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  • Renee Ray

    Oh, I do remember this tree! We still talk about it! The comments made me laugh again!

  • oscar case

    I would’ve liked to have seen that tree! Most people around here use white bulbs on their houses. I think vareity is the spice of life.

  • Laura/Readerwoman

    No tree for us this year – but I love the image of yours – a dancing tree of red delight!