The Annual Argument

December 19, 2006

With the help of the always excellent Benjamin Davenport, I procured for our little home a tree this past Saturday. Knowing Katie’s enjoyment of the trimming process the fir remained ornament-free over the weekend, while she was out of town. I managed to have a semi-decent weekend by myself. Mostly, I played Viva Pinata. :)

We started putting the ornaments up late last night. On Mondays Katie gets home earlier than on other nights, but were were both pretty tired, and so didn’t get that much done before we turned in.

Today, we resolved to get the the tree filled out before she went to work at five. With more time spent on the ornaments, we came back to the same old ‘discussion’ we have every year. With the lights on the tree and that green/red plastic bin cracked open, one of the few points of friction we share comes to the surface. Basically, I think we have too many ornaments already, and Katie sees it as an obligation to put every single ornamentation we have on the tree.

This is a fundamental disconnect we share, and it highlights one of the basic differences in our character. It’s weird … we have so much oddly in common that the few points of friction we have seem oddly out of proportion. In the case of the ornaments, it’s a ‘new vs. old’ problem.

For a number of reasons, my childhood and formative years have mostly been left by the side of the road as I was growing up. Ornaments, pictures, toys, books … I don’t have a lot of artifacts of my past left over. As might be expected, my outlook on life and material goods reflects my upbringing. While I respect the longevity of structures and items, I don’t have an appreciation for permanence. The new is better than the old, why do things the old way if something better comes along, etc, etc.

Katie’s upbringing, on the other hand, has had a commendable continuity that (I’ll be honest) sometimes makes me jealous. Though she moved once or twice while she was growing up, the stuff of her childhood has survived more or less intact. She still has her trusted teddy bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy, that was given to her when she was born. Though she doesn’t exactly wear them anymore, she still has clothes from when she was just four or five years old. She has toys, pictures; we have a stack of DVDs that show her being a little primma donna on Christmas Day many years ago.

When I look at a Christmas tree, I see an aesthetic statement; it’s art for the sake of art. When Katie looks at a Christmas tree, it’s like a lot of things in her life: a living part of her history. Most of the ornaments on the tree are hers, highlighting her birth,Ă‚ moments from her youth, moments from her parents’ lives. We share several ornaments now, mostly from our marriage last year. They’re beautiful, and make me appreciate ornamentation in the way she does of things from her distant past. Even there, though, I find myself thinking “Will I still want all of these hanging on the tree 30 years from now?” My own ornaments are mostly recent acquisitions. Mom let me move on with two ornaments from being a baby; since then I’ve gotten a ‘Darth M&M’ from Katie’s folks, and a few ornaments from Katie: a pirate ship, a bag of polyhedral dice, a zebra. They’re all greatly appreciated (especially the pirate ship) … but why would I want the same things hanging from the tree 30 years from now?

The argument, such as it is, is almost comical now:

Michael: The tree is full already!
Katie: No its not, I see big holes. Besides, we need to use all of the ornaments!
Michael: But … why? Wouldn’t it be better to pick the ornaments we like and just put those up? It looks like a vertical yard sale with everything on the tree.
Katie: It’s important that we put everything up! They all have meaning!
Michael: Are we going to do this every year? If we put up every ornament we get, every year, the tree is going to fall over?
Katie: No its not!
Michael: Yes it is! Every year we get three or four ornaments. By my calculations, that means by the time we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary our tree will weigh about a metric ton!

And so it goes. We never really “get” anywhere with this argument, and I can’t say that I really enjoy playing out my little part of this farce. Just the same, I think it’s a good thing we go through this annual ritual. We’re very different people, in our own ways, and this is something I think it’s going to take us a long time to figure out. I certainly hope we do someday; why do things the way you always have, if there’s a better way to do it?



  1. You aren’t supposed to weigh the poor little tree down with EVERY ornament you own each year. That’s cruel! You ARE supposed to rotate the beloved pieces of ornamentation, so that each year, a different set of them gets to shine, being all the more special for not having been seen on the tree last year. And yes, you do keep the ornaments commemorating your wedding to place on the tree fifty years from now, you insensitive oaf. Unless that year happens to be the one that Darth Chocolate is rotated in. Them’s the breaks.

  2. My mom simultaneously wants to display every ornament she has and make it aesthetically pleasing. So she found a compromise: multiple trees. :-)

    You might considering springing for a small artificial tree you can stick in a corner and use for overflow ornaments. Or perhaps get a few wreaths, mount them on the walls, and hang ornaments from them.

  3. Michael — I won’t give you advice very often, but on this one I can tell you it is not one you can win. Twenty nine years ago I made the same argument as you. I realized 28 years ago I not only was not going to win it, it wasn’t a battle worth fighting. I have gone to the dark side on this one and will now admit my favorite ornaments are the cookie-dough ones we made when we were first married. We didn’t have ornaments or enough money to buy any, and we wouldn’t think of not hanging them now.

    You think you have problems – you should be married to a teacher and have to hang every one of the apple ornaments she’s gotten from students over the course of 20 Christmases of teaching. She may not remember the kid anymore but by gosh we’re hanging that paper mache apple!

    One thing that helps over time are changes that give you more room for ornaments. When we got rid of Katie, er, when Katie moved out, we also freed up at least 8 years of space on the tree by sending some ornaments with her. Believe it or not, when we built the house one of the best arguments for 9 foot ceilings was we could have a taller Christmas tree (and fit more ornaments). After all these years the tree can still handle all the ornaments, it still has holes needing to be filled, etc. I figure the next house will have cathedral ceilings.

    Also understand that “aesthetically pleasing” is a matter of opinion. The Giacomini tree may be a little convoluted, but it’s at least not boring like the ones with the symmetrical red and white bulbs. I mean – what’s the point of a plain white bulb, anyway?

    One thing we haven’t solved after 28 Christmases – Libby would still like to get the tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I’d prefer not to think about until at least December, preferably after the 10th. These little differences are what make a good marriege – differences that don’t really matter but make our lives more interesting.

    TIP – put the ugly ones in back where people can’t see them anyway. There’s always room back there!

  4. I should point out that before Alan and my mom moved to multiple trees, she first went with bigger and bigger trees. It is not unheard of for the real tree in the living room to be as wide as it is tall (noting that the tree will touch the ceiling).

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