When Dad leads the decoration of the Christmas tree

by Mr. Sheehy

We decorated the tree tonight.

Okay, that was a lie. First off, “we” implies all of us, but in reality Mommy Sheehy was too sick to stand and A– and E– helped me with some key elements, like the beads, which I had some trouble stringing at the top of the tree because A– had the other end clenched in her claws. The whole ornament process was a bit more “we” than that, even though E– kept asking to put up another ornament only to request that I put it up for her, a request to which I rarely agreed – it was the teacher in me refusing to give the answer.

That statement also implies that we neared some sort of completion, but really we just strung up some lights, draped some beads, and dangled a dozen ornaments before wandering into other activities, like going to bed. In our wake, we scattered half empty boxes and piles of tissue paper. Just what a sick Mommy wants to see in the morning.

It’s not my fault, really. I had no business leading the decoration of a tree. My job is to spend my entire bankroll of enthusiasm for Christmas decorations on the erection of the tree, where I screw and unscrew those ridiculous bolts, making our spruce sway oh-so slowly from 10:00 to 2:00 and back again. Eventually I discover the trunk is crooked, which prompts me to jam the bolts in there and give the tree a good poke to see if it will fall. If the stand doesn’t rock, I’m satisfied.

Sort of. In truth, I usually spend Advent staring at the top of the tree wondering if it is leaning just a needle further to the right than it was before, and I debate whether to use the string and bolt method my parents adopted after my brother knocked a tree to the ground while attempting to turn on the lights.

I have to admit, however, that this year things went surprisingly smoothly. I ascribe the improvement to the smaller stand my in-laws donated, likely a response to some surreptitious cries for help from my wife. Apparently part of my annual problem was that when we bought our Christmas supplies six years ago, I chose the World’s Largest Tree Stand. I threw away the box, but had I actually read it, I would not have been surprised to read an advertising banner claiming it was the same model used at Rockefeller Plaza. I wanted something sturdy, and I wanted the biggest tree I could cram into that six foot apartment, and I wonder what my wife was thinking at the time, because she never said anything . . . It wasn’t an entirely idiotic idea, however: the water rarely ran out since the stand held close to a gallon.

That mini-stand means, of course, that I had Christmas decorating currency in the bank tonight, but even in a good year, I cannot maintain the stamina to decorate an entire tree. Call it nurtured negligence, but growing up, I’d grab the ornaments with connection to me, hang them, and then mill around listening to Christmas music while Mom did all the work. It took extreme circumstances to motivate me beyond this, like the year Dad got frustrated with the lights and the whole ordeal and quit, vowing not to have a tree. My brother and I, who were 13 and 11 at the time, decorated the entire tree, right up to the improvised tree topper – the white, glass head of a shepherd, lost in a nativity accident some years before.

Tonight might have provided similar motivation, with Mommy Sheehy out of commission. We started strong, half-emptying the box of Christmas decorations and overcoming a fickle strand of lights and an 18-month old’s fascination with the power outlet, but then the formula proved true once again. A– piled a lump of wooden beads on a low branch, E– laid a reindeer flat when she couldn’t find a good spot for him to dangle, and I ran downstairs to play the ghost of Christmases-past on my blog.

Crowded branch

I suppose if I were a loving husband and enthusiast of Christmas decorations, I’d stay up and finish the tree, leaving my wife with some optional rearranging instead of a mess that requires immediate and tasteful intervention. But I know it won’t happen, because after I finish the dishes, I won’t have the patience required to untangle the ball of wire hooks. I will probably toss a few ornaments on the tree before turning out the lights, maybe hide a few sheets of tissue paper, and then stuff the rest of the ornaments back in the box so the girls can’t break them in the morning.

I’ll also leave a printed copy of this article sitting on the counter, to remind my loving and beautiful wife that at least we have a star on top of our tree, and not the decapitated cranium of a humble and reverent shepherd.