This is the story of the first Christmas tree that my now husband and I decorated together. At the time, he was my boyfriend. While I have had the tradition of decorating a tree every December of my life this was his first ever Christmas tree in a house where he lived because he is Jewish.
Now, while I had always had a Christmas tree in my house growing up I did not know as much about the process as I do now. In my house, we got a live tree every year. I don’t think I’ve ever had an artificial tree.
To be fair, the majority of the details of Christmas tree shopping, setting up, decorating and taking down were things I had taken for granted for most of my life.
The adults in my life took care of these things when I was a kid. I didn’t pay much attention. That’s one of the perks of being a kid.
Christmas trees were small and simple when I lived alone
When I was living alone I would buy a small tree that went on top of a table. I had a small tree stand and a small box of clear glass ornaments. I think I probably had one small string white of lights. It was very pretty white lights twinkling on glass ornaments.
My boyfriend and I had just moved into a house together. My boyfriend was older than me and he had been married before and had two kids from that marriage.
Our plan (as we lived together unmarried and with no current plans to get married ) was not really a plan. We had more of a very casual and informal agreement to celebrate both holiday traditions. My boyfriend did think it would be fun to have a tree.
It seemed to make sense to us to get a slightly larger tree than I had had in the past.
Shortly after Thanksgiving off we went to the neighborhood tree stand. Just adults and we picked out a probably 5 or 6 foot tree. This was much bigger than my table top trees but it’s Pretty modest actually in terms of big Christmas trees. I was very confident in my tree selection abilities.
When we were checking out the helper said, “Did you bring your stand” He gestured to a whole bunch of tree stands there for sale. He directed the comment to my boyfriend who shrugged and looked at me
I said, “no, I have one at home.”
The stand was — at home — still in the box with the ornaments.
My boyfriend at the time had total faith in my knowledge about tree stands.
The trust in my tree stand knowledge– it turns out — was a mistake.
We took the tree home. I remember this as being uneventful. Looking back that seems unlikely because every year since there has a lot of drama with us transporting trees. Nonetheless from this first year I don’t remember any drama driving the tree from the store to the house.
We took the tree inside.
We wrestled the tree into the stand and it was a tight fit.
Barely any water fit around the trunk.
But the tree was up. Tah-dah!
Nothing smells as good as a fresh Christmas tree. Even in Miami when you’re wearing shorts and sweating as you carry it into your house.
I immediately decorated the tree with my one string of lights and my few glass ornaments. I was anticipating shopping for more ornaments later that afternoon with my boyfriends kids who were coming over.
Oh what fun decorating the tree would be.
My expectations were an afternoon of tree decorating bliss with the boyfriend and kids.
A few moments later, the tree fell over onto the tile floor with a big crash of breaking glass ornaments.
We were both in another part of the house and came running into the room.
The Seasonal Shrub Has Fallen Over
My boyfriend asked me, “is this normal?”
I said, “no.”
Then we went and looked at the mess. My boyfriend did helpfully point out that my tree stand was very small compared to the ones at the tree store.
He was right.
This is the exact moment when we both learned that bigger trees need bigger tree stands. It’s also when I learned that smart people take the stand with them when they go to get the tree.
Bigger tree = Bigger Stand (lesson learned)
We go back to the tree store and get a bigger stand. The stand we bought was about triple the size of the stand we had used before.
We come back home and put the tree in the bigger stand.
My boyfriend by now has a lot less faith in me knowing what to do … or that the tree won’t fall over again.
Honestly, he’s got a reasonable case with this because obviously it did just fall over.
The tree stayed up. (yay!)
I clean up the broken glass ornaments.
A few hours later his kids get dropped off.
We don’t tell them about the tree falling or the broken ornaments.
They are very excited to get to decorate the tree. Even though they are young they were kind of thinking that I – as the tree expert — would actually have had some ornaments to start decorating. This is a reasonable assumption. But of course, I don’t have ornaments … anymore …because … they all broke when the tree fell.
A good thing about young kids is that they are easily distracted by the idea of new things and so the chance to buy new ornaments smoothed that right over.
Shopping for ornaments and lights with the kids
Off we go to K-Mart for decorating supplies.
The kids and my boyfriend are new to Christmas trees and they don’t want to do anything wrong. My boyfriend asks me if there are any rules about what kind of ornaments and I say, “No…just ornaments.”
We tell the kids that they get to pick out whatever ornaments they like and there’s only one rule … they cannot not be glass. The ornaments should be unbreakable.
My boyfriend at the time also suggests that we could use more lights. Which is a great suggestion especially since the existing lights may also have broken in the fall. So we get lots more lights. This is when I realized that I didn’t really know how many strings of lights you need for a tree. Answer: lots.
His kids are at this point I think 9 and 5 years old. This is their first tree so they have no previous ornament or tree experience. They really have no Christmas experience — they are Jewish.
They pick out multicolored lights. That’s fun.
As you might expect if you have ever shopped in the Christmas section of a store, the Christmas decoration section of the store is a giant sea of red, green, gold and silver.
Obviously, the kids pick two enormous tubs of plastic multi-colored fruits.
What kind of fruits? Good question.
All kinds of fruits: apples, grapes, oranges, bananas, lemons. Interestingly, none of the plastic fruit is colored anything even remotely like the color of the actual fruit. It’s like blue grapes and gold lemons and purple apples. A variety of fruits and a variety of non-seasonal colors.
Now, this is not what I think of as a traditional Christmas ornament collection. I still have no idea what these fruit ornaments were doing in this section. I have never seen anything like it before or since. What I do remember is that my boyfriends kids were very excited with their choices. So that was it. I decided to just go with it and did actually kind of sort of go nicely with the multicolored lights.
We had a lot of color on the tree that first year
We went home and decorated the tree together.
A few weeks later when examining the decorations I remember one of my parents looked at the tree and quickly guessed that the kids had done the decorating. In addition to the fruit ornaments the big giveaway was that all the ornaments were pretty much on one side of the tree and stopped just above where the kids could reach. I had spread the ornaments out a little bit but … mostly a 2 foot by 3 foot section crammed with fruit ornaments.
Since then a lot has changed. I married that boyfriend and we’ve had a tree every year since then.
We added two more kids and we’ve got a lot more practice decorating trees together. The kids are now mostly taller than me so they take care of decorating the top of the tree.
It’s interesting because this one day set up a few traditions that hold still true in our family to this day.
- We haven’t had any other trees fall over. I take no credit for this. I am still not entrusted with this part of the process.
- We STILL try to only use non-breakable ornaments.
- We now always take our stand with us to purchase the tree.
- When in doubt my husband will always buy a bigger stand if it is even slightly suggested. My opinion on the necessary tree-stand size is completely and summarily ignored.
- We wait to make sure the tree doesn’t fall over before we decorate it.
- The kids (who are now teens and adults) still get to decorate the tree with what they like if they want.
It’s been over 20 years since our first Christmas tree together.
Over the years as those first ornaments broke we replaced them with ones the kids made or mementos from travels we took together. Only a handful of the multicolored fruit are left. The few that remain are faded, scratched and beaten up from two decades of decorating our trees. When I realized that we only had a couple left I actually began to treat them more carefully. Every year when I unpack these little treasures they remind me of the first tree we had together.
Do you have a fun story of a tree or holiday decoration gone unexpectedly? I’d love to hear it. Leave me a comment or send me an email.
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