These past few weeks have been spent baking cookies, decorating trees (of which we have three…more on this below), watching George Bailey and Charlie Brown, drinking spiced wine, and listening to Bing Crosby, all in the spirit of the holiday “season,” which doesn’t feel like much of a season at all when the car thermometer reads 95 degrees and the humidity level is much the same. I know it’s my temperate zone proclivity getting the better of me, but it can feel down right contrived at times to celebrate Christmas when the weather doesn’t “feel” like Christmas. Not to mention that it has been over two weeks since the embassy mail last arrived–mail that includes such crucial diplomatic correspondence as official documents, OUR PRESENTS, embassy supplies, OUR PRESENTS, American literature, media and other items given out at official events, OUR PRESENTS, bills, IRS paperwork, OUR PRESENTS, and various and other sundry PRESENTS. At least we have a pretty tree to look at…
So back to our three little trees. Let me start by saying it was never my intention to procure multiple plastic trees, much less ship them around the world. But, you see, this is what happens when your months of list-making, spreadsheet-creating and otherwise well-intentioned packing preparations fail to factor in such crucial components as nostalgia, home sickness and pregnancy/postpartum hormones, all of which can contribute to the overwhelming desire to have a Christmas tree in your home, cost or distance be damned. For our first Christmas in China, crucial components 1 & 2 hit me like an icy gust, a stinging, prickly surprise that, no matter how cold you already are, still causes your eyes to water. Such was my state when I ordered a pre-lit, 6 1/2 foot tree from Tree Classics. Truth be told, I really wanted a 7 1/2 foot monstrosity of a contraption, but to ensure that it wasn’t rejected in the mail due to size, I settled with the 6.5 footer. And what do you know but that damn tree was rejected…due to size. We even had it sent to a military repacking company (apparently I’m not the only one with this problem) that tried to pack it in a smaller box but to no avail. Alas, that Christmas was spent tearfully watching holiday movies, “pining” for something homey in the midst of a foreign land.
By our second Christmas in China, crucial component 3(a) swept over me in all its moody, illogical glory. After two attempts at shipping the luxurious, “real feel” pre-lit Christmas tree the year before, we had it sent to Ben’s parents for safe keeping until we were back in the States. In the meantime my hormones, by God, were going to have a Christmas tree. So I dragged my sweet in-laws, who happened to be visiting us at the time, down to the cheap, kitschy Christmas market (the market I avoided the year before because if I was going to ship a tree around the world for years to come, I wanted it to be a good one), in the pouring rain no less, to buy a stand-in tree because…hormones. It was neither tall nor pre-lit, but it provided a bit of holiday cheer and squelched the inner hormonal beast that in actuality was a cuddly baby. That Christmas was spent jealously watching others eat soft cheeses and drink champagne, before calling it a night at a ridiculously early hour and sleeping like a log.
Our third Christmas was spent back in the US, where we finally, FINALLY came face to face with our ‘real’ fake tree–only to quickly shove it in the closet because there was absolutely no way our teeny tiny temporary apartment could possibly fit both a full size tree and the baby’s various accoutrements. I’d like to think that under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t bother me (Ben may beg to differ), but at this point I was afflicted by crucial component 3(b), and so on one of my rare baby-free trips to Target I decided to buy yet another stand-in. This one was of the table-top variety, donned with a combination of miniature and regular-sized ornaments, so that it took on a certain collegiate quality–decent enough for a dorm room, but a bit odd in any other setting. That Christmas was spent sipping coffee, watching our little baby play with wrapping paper, and enjoying a relaxing, albeit sleep-deprived, day as a family of three.
On this, our fourth Christmas since having moved abroad, I type to you whilst basking beneath the soft glow of our 6.5 foot pre-lit real-feel Tannenbaum, decked with loads of shimmery festive ornaments. Nestled on a shelf nearby sits the quaint table-top fir, upgraded with matching gold and cream glass balls strung with white satin ribbons. And our Chinese stand-in is on loan at the embassy, donned with the community’s Toys for Tots ornaments, which will be paired with gifts and given to children at a local orphanage next week. Without the ‘right’ weather or potentially no gifts to open, this Christmas may be spent like any ordinary day, hanging out with family and friends and eating delicious home-cooked food, which is to say it will be a pretty stinking fantastic day. The trees are just the icing on the cake…the ‘tree topper,’ if you will.