Ever look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Who ARE you?” I’m starting to wonder.
For the first half of my life, I was sure about who I was. I had strong ideas about right and wrong, tasteful and tacky. There was little margin for error, no gray area, and certainly no blurred lines. But lately, nothing seems as cut and dried as it used to be.
This Christmas season has inspired three holiday firsts: we cut down our first live Christmas tree, put holiday lights on the house, and waded knee-deep into ugly sweater territory. Excuse me?
This must be how it starts. Shortly, we’ll probably rival Clark Griswold’s light display from “Christmas Vacation.” It’s a slippery slope, for sure. My husband Tim fears there will be giant inflatable snow globes, Santa sleighs and illuminated reindeer in our future. I was going to say, “Never,” but decided I can never say never anymore.
I blame my daughter for the whole thing.
Before she was born, Christmas was a white-lights only, tinsel-free, tastefully decorated, artificial tree affair. My cookies would have made Martha Stewart proud, and our eggnog was always pasteurized (and spiked). Our holiday music was sedate and classic.
Then we had Elizabeth. Our tree immediately went from basic white to Technicolor. After Lizzie, I was like Dorothy when she set foot on that Yellow Brick Road. Not only did I buy colorful Christmas lights, but I made sure they flashed. I added the old-fashioned “bubble” lights for extra holiday excitement, and tossed on a string of plastic Winnie the Pooh lights for good measure.
The baby loved it. And so did I. My husband, who for years had lobbied unsuccessfully for color lights and a few strands of tinsel, wondered what had become of his wife.
Always dead-set against putting lights on the house, I bought a huge wreath, lit it up, and had him hang it out the second-story window of our barn hayloft. Christmas music sung by the Chipmunks and Kids Bop filled our kitchen as Liz and I decorated gaudy cookies with mismatched sprinkles and neon frosting.
Now seven years in, I thought I’d had my fill, but apparently not. Inspiration hit me like a thunderbolt one day last month: we had to cut a live tree for Christmas. Once the idea entered my head, it had to happen. I assure you, there was no way even I could alter the course of history. That tree would be mine.
My better half was thrilled. He grew up having a live tree for Christmas his whole life, and loved everything about it, from the delicious fresh scent to the memories of touching the spiky needles. He also despised wrestling our artificial tree out of the box each year, building it limb by limb, and trying to bend the branches into something that resembled a lifelike evergreen.
For me, getting a real tree had never even been on the table for discussion. I had been raised with a few strange ideas: that real trees are so highly flammable that they spontaneously combust and ruin families on a daily basis each December (my Dad), and that to kill a live tree was wrong (hi, Mom). Not only would it steal the natural habitat of a little woodland creature, rendering it homeless, but that tree’s life probably meant as much to it as mine does to me.
Apparently I accepted these curious notions as gospel for my whole childhood and most of my adult life. But for whatever reason, at age 45 it struck me that my parents might be full of it. What if marching into the woods was a fun holiday tradition, as my husband claimed? What if the cutting of the tree wasn’t like picking out your own lobster at a lobster pound and marking it for death? What if it didn’t create an immediate inferno and destroy us? After all, Tim’s family had somehow survived. I was ready to live on the edge.
So we enlisted my brother, his wife and their baby daughter to be our Sherpa guides in this tree-cutting experience. My husband brought a saw and a tape measure, and we met at a tree farm. With our girls bundled up against the December chill, and the sky spitting snow, we walked over hill and dale, estimating heights, checking for flat spots and sizing up dozens of trees. Finally, we settled on two perfect specimens. Tim promised to check ours for wildlife. No bird nests, squirrels, mice, chipmunks, bats...not even a caterpillar in sight, he promised. We womenfolk looked on as our lumberjacks hacked down the 8-foot trees, then lugged them to a waiting tractor with a trailer. After a quick trip through the netting machine, they were good to go.
The whole process was so natural, so wholesome, so Maine. There’s no way something that feels so right could be wrong. My city-born parents didn’t know what they had been missing.
Our daughter loved it, and hugged and talked to the tree. We decorated it with gusto, but quickly discovered you can’t bend the branches like you can with wire limbs. Still, the aroma filled our home and watering the tree was fun, not a chore. I can’t imagine we’ll ever go back to our fake tree.
Next, I handed two boxes of icicle lights to Tim and asked him to put them up around our small farmer’s porch. He looked puzzled, eyed me suspiciously, and did as I asked. It looks so charming. So warm. So cozy. Who AM I?
And last, but not least, the sweater. My betrothed donned one of my sweaters (Talbots, no less) and bedecked it with flashing star lights, hiding the battery-operated control box in his pocket. His so-called “Ugly Sweater” was the hit of his company party and won him first prize. To say I was a little miffed would be an understatement, but anytime our family brings home the gold in any contest, the competitive side of me has to celebrate.
Whatever transformation is under way, I embrace it. Maybe we’ve mellowed with age. I thought we’d get more set in our ways the older we got, but the opposite seems to be true. Maybe blurred lines are what life is all about, and we are just learning that now. Or maybe we’re getting older and wiser. All I know is I’ve been sleeping like a baby with my fresh-cut evergreen and twinkling icicle lights.
When I told my Dad about the tree, his 84-year-old voice went silent for a moment on the phone.
“Did they spray it at the farm?” he finally said, sounding concerned.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “You mean for pesticides?”
“No,” he said. “To make it flame retardant.”
Clearly the transformation gene didn’t come from the Ferrazza DNA.
And the beat goes on.