Gilchrist: Decorating tree an emotional investment

Tracy Gilchrist / Kamloops Daily News
December 14, 2012 01:00 AM

People are particular about their Christmas decorations - both how they look and who does what.

In my childhood, for instance, there were unwritten rules about what different individuals were tasked with what Christmas decorating.

Dad put up the outside lights - large, energy-sucking multicoloured bulbs arranged so the same colour never appeared side by side. He was also responsible for assembling the fake tree and stringing lights on it. Mom wove the garlands through the branches, we kids helped hang the bulbs and she applied the silver tinsel piece by piece.

Later in life, I realized I had compulsive tendencies with the Christmas tree when my then boyfriend surprised me by setting it up so we could decorate it later. Something was very wrong. He'd obviously divided the branches according to length, but then lost his way - all the long ones were inserted at the top, narrowing to the shortest at the bottom; more of an inverted pyramid than an evergreen. We laughed together, but as soon as he hit the shower, I hastily rearranged it.

A couple decades later, I conceded my fake tree (yes, still the one from childhood) could join the landfill in favour of a real one cut down from our property. The whole family would hike up an old logging road and scout out the perfect specimen - not too nice, as we didn't want to cut down something really beautiful, but not a full-on Charlie Brown tree either. The tree and as many people as the toboggan could hold would ride down to the house, the rest of us eating their snow trail. But the family togetherness grew a bit too close once inside. I cringed when the lights weren't spread out evenly and so many little hands began grabbing fragile ornaments and sticking them in a clump on the bottom three feet.

Old habits die hard . . . once their attention waned, I quietly redecorated, knowing full well it wouldn't make a difference to anyone but me. I gain comfort in knowing I'm not alone in my desire for having the Christmas decorations just so.

I chuckled when I read Louise Edwards' Dec. 6 letter to the editor, describing how she wanted a hand decorating her home for the holidays but was reluctant to accept the help offered from a Grade 7 class.

She is "exacting" with her decorations, she'd written.

When we visited my octogenarian mother-in-law a few years ago, I'd looked forward to decorating the tree together, drinking rum and eggnog and bonding.

But she kept stalling when I brought it up and then did the whole tree herself while my husband and I were out doing errands. What is it that makes people so proprietary about their Christmas decorating? Why are we so invested in how an inanimate object looks that is only on display mere weeks a year?

The array represents much more than just decorations, of course; it's one of the few things we create that never weathers, fades or disappoints. The tree and Christmas decorations remain just as we want them to be, a vision of the bright and beautiful, representing happy times sparkling with promise.

There's nothing wrong with wanting a hand in that.

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