emily-ortonGuest Blogger: Emily Orton

Emily and her husband are on the most narrow section of the bell curve for living in New York City with their FIVE children.

I never met a Christmas tree I didn’t like; the symbolism, the ornaments, the lights; the very marker of the season, in my opinion. As a young girl, I set up a holiday tree right in my bedroom. Never mind the thousands of lights draping the bushes outside our home. Never mind the seven foot artificial tree in our living room, a veritable galaxy of ornamental stars fashioned from macaroni and gold spray paint. I had to have my own. So, Mom let me use the spare. The spare was a fake tree, completely white and about three feet tall. I have since learned that artificial Christmas trees were first invented by a toilet brush company. Thinking back on my little white tannenbaum, its inauspicious ancestry is undeniable, despite my best efforts with tinsel garland and syncopated colored lights.

While I was raised in the philosophy of reusable artificial trees, my husband, Erik, was schooled in the venerable tradition of real trees. The ones that die slowly over the course of the holiday. This might have created one of the culture clashes so common among newlyweds except our paltry student budget precluded any debate. Our first tree was The Butcher Paper Bonus. As a teaching intern, I had all the responsibilities of a “real” teacher for half the salary plus an infinite supply of butcher paper, which is, I pointed out to my husband, made from actual dead trees. I take full responsibility for the stumpless, six foot kelly green wonder taped to our living room wall, topped with a construction paper star and fitted with a half dozen brassy, White House ornaments, arguably my only marriage dowry. They added some measure of sparkle, however absurd their combination with a paper tree may have seemed to Erik. Wisely, he remained without comment. He knew there would be a legitimate tree at his parent’s where, to his relief, we would actually be spending the holiday week.

The following year we had a Charlie Brown tree, not much more than a branch really, set in a vase on our end table. Still, it was proportionate to our small apartment and our small family; just Erik, myself and our five month old daughter. I covered it in lavender bows from my great-grandmother’s dress shop because ornaments would topple it. At night we would sit in the glow of that diminutive tree and feel all the peace and hope of the season.

Our next Noelle featured The Downstairs tree. We were in post-graduation transition living in my parents basement for eight weeks. Upstairs, they had Christmas covered with a huge tree, boughs of holly, lights, stockings; the whole nine yards. But in defense of our independence as a separate family unit, we set up a full size tree downstairs. Admittedly, it was another spare borrowed from my parents. But at night we basked in the glow of our tree. And Christmas morning we opened our presents before heading upstairs where we had no qualms mooching off Mom and Dad’s all day holiday buffet.

The following year, we settled into our first New York City apartment where we’ve ensconced ourselves for nearly a decade. Our Christmas trees have ranged from The NYC Sticker Shock Special, our everyday Fica draped in lights and ornaments, to The Overcompensation, a monstrous Douglas fir that hunched against the ceiling and consumed a proper third of the room. With storage at a premium, we have closed the debate on artificial trees, which evidently emit deadly toxins anyway. Instead, we’ve purchased real trees from every Canadian committed to live in a van for six weeks in Inwood. We’ve hauled trees home in collapsible metal shopping carts or carried them tandem style. Most often Erik dons his tree-carrying stocking cap, especially selected for cranial comfort and sap absorption. He sets that tree right on top of his head, a la National Geographic. The rest of us form a noisy perimeter warning our fellow pedestrians of the wide load. There can be no doubt about our intentions with the children proudly yelling, “That’s our Christmas tree!,” to every passerby.

Last year, hoping for a more traditional experience, we drove our minivan to Stew Leonard’s. It turned out to be tree shopping fast-food style. Once we got to the head of a long line of frozen families, we had our pick of trees bound and stacked according to type, height and price range; each tagged with color coordinated spray paint. I placed my order with the brightly vested sales associate, “We’d like an orange-seven.” To whit, he cut the bands of the giant asparagus-like bundle. And smacked the stump hard on the ground, twice, bringing the boughs down. Sure enough, it was a tree. We got a 20 second gander at our goods, a numbered ticket, and a grunt towards the line for the cashier’s booth. The cashier provided a claim receipt and instructions to the drive-through queue. Dubious, we bustled back into our van to join the procession of cars that wrapped around the store like a holiday ribbon. In the end, our van was surrounded by tall, expressionless teenage boys who strapped a tree, presumably the one we had purchased, to the top of our van and then faded back into the forest of swirling shoppers and bounded firs. By some Christmas miracle, we did get the “orange-seven” we had picked.

I don’t know where we’ll go for this year’s tree. There are seven of us in all now, so, whether by foot or minivan, going anywhere is an exodus. Wherever we end up, the children will surely get a fragrant slice of stump, a sticky branch or maybe a bit of handmade twine; seasonal treasures worth fighting over. Inevitably, we will overestimate the height of our ceiling and underestimate the height of the tree. But when we loose the bands and that tree springs open, there will be a collective sigh in our little hearts. And, O Tannenbaum, in that moment, we will all gratefully acknowledge that Christmas has come again.

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