It took me 20 years to realize that song title was a warning. When you’re a kid, the cutting of the Christmas tree is an exciting adventure cloaked in sacred ritual. By the age of 65, it had become (to my grandmother) a trip to the attic to retrieve a 3-foot plastic albatross, left fully decorated with air-dried, pigmy candy canes that became more shrunken with each passing year.
My grandmother, being 4 feet, 4 inches tall never had a Christmas tree that stood over 36 inches. As I kid, I figured it was because she was worried about reaching the top. The lights had bulbs the size of the ones that the White House uses for its yearly 10 story-high extravaganza. They were colored in the weirdest shades imaginable; lime green, Jell-O-orange, caution yellow and beach ball blue.
There were no gifts under her tree because my grandmother, who never learned to drive (she couldn’t reach the gas peddle), relished the sentimentality of a $5 dollar bill tucked inside one of those money envelopes with a peek-a-boo hole in the center.
We never cut our tree from a tree farm, but hauled home a semi-fragrant fir from our neighborhood used-car lot, which had been made into a Norwegian forest wrapped with flashing strings of lights.
Bringing our too-tall trophy home, dad would promptly gouge up the ceiling as he would try to optimistically jam it into place. The poor tree’s inevitable dissection included lopping off the top half. (I loved that miniature tree and always ‘planted’ it outside near my sister’s snow fort), and while it was being fitted with its metal stand, one of us would install the plastic angel on top with the light bulb up her skirt.
All was ready; we stood back and were hushed as we switched off the room’s lights and beheld our creation (while we stuffed ourselves on Frito Lay Corn Chips and Christmas cookies).
Then came practising the carols played our recreation room piano before we’d take our singing out to the street and door-to-door. One year while we sang Oh Holy Night, and we arrived at the “fall on your knees” park, I got a little dramatic and fell to my knees. Everyone heard a loud crack as my knee bone hit the cement stair. I hobbled home that night still in a euphoric Christmas mood. I knew, despite the pain, that I would sleep in heavenly peace.
Joyce Faiola is a freelance writer living in West Groton.