christmas tree stock

A Christmas tree stands naked in our family room.  

I make no apologies for this. Not much, anyway.  

When outside lights start twinkling in neighbors’ yards in mid-November, I admit to an increased heart rate.  

And when I see trees in their windows Thanksgiving weekend, there is some labored breathing on my part.  

I scoff at those who start so early, but the reality is I feel guilt, just as I do when a neighbor’s yard is nicer than mine. I think I need to keep up with them. It’s all part of a deep psychological issue I’ve never addressed.  

(I keep waiting for my fellow columnist, Ramon Presson, a licensed professional counselor, to call and offer me the friends and family discount, but thus far it has not happened.)  

With 19 people at our house Thanksgiving Day, and many of those with us through the weekend, there was simply no way we were going to start Christmas  

But it eventually became time, along about the first week in December, so I made the trip to the Christmas tree lot.  

am in charge of exactly two things at Christmas: the Christmas tree and Christmas card.  

When family members open gifts, even though my name might be on the tag and they thank me, they know I had nothing to do with it and had no idea, until it was opened in front of me, what I was giving them. 

That’s because gifts are not part of my assignment. It’s the tree and the card. One would think, with those two responsibilities, my angst would be minimal.  

But that’s not the case. Over the years I have perspired bullets putting up the tree. I’ve recounted the various mishaps in previous installments, so we’ll not rehash them here today.  

I have found a solution, but it’s a pricey one.  

Last year I went to a Christmas tree lot, one you would likely be familiar with, and paid top dollar, not only to purchase a tree but to have it delivered and set up in the house.  

Except for the cost, there was not one bit of that arrangement I did not love. All through this year, I made suggestions to my wife that we do it again.  

I think tree prices increased some this year (you know, COVID and the supply chain), so this year’s tree is not quite as big as last year’s. But it’s plenty nice. 

And having someone show up at the door, bring it in and stand it up? That has plenty of monetary value in my book.   

My wife has started looking at artificial trees, but has been kind enough not to explain how it is a one-time payment rather than a major expenditure every Christmas. She knows I am not there yet.  

For now, the 2021 version stands in the house, and it will soon be fully adorned by Christmas.  

That’s the tree story.  Now for the Christmas card.  

The truth is I enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards. But the evolution of this tradition has evolved to the point it has interfered with that enjoyment.  

At one time, the Christmas card was fairly standard. You could go to a store that sold them and pick a box of them, with a secular or religious theme. You could write a note if you chose to do so.  

During my growing-up years, the wealthy among my parents’ friends had their names printed on their cards. My mother might or might not have commented upon that being a little impersonal.  

I wonder what she would think of the ones today in which you can send your picture and a spreadsheet, along with your payment, and the cards will be stamped, sealed, addressed and mailed?  

My mother signed her Christmas cards and sent them to out-of-town friends and family. Her reasoning was she extended holiday greetings to locals in person (and of course it saved money on postage. 

I carried on this tradition and caught no small amount of grief for it. When we kept getting local cards with pictures, my wife asked if I would reconsider. So now I send a few in town.  

Probably 30-ish years ago, the “annual Christmas letter” caught on. I scoffed at this too, until I wrote one myself.  

Mine tended to be satirical, if not slightly (but tastefully) sarcastic. I might have good-naturedly called out people who write their letters in third person or gently questioned all the lauded accomplishments of family members 

I held fast to not sending the Christmas letter locally. In this case I think my mother’s theory fully applies. If you live nearby, chances are you know what’s going on with me (if you even care) and I don’t need to send you a form letter.  

Folks seemed to like my letters and that was flattering. I tried to keep it up.  

But for the past several years, I have felt pressure to write the letter and that’s where the angst has come in. I finally told my wife I simply can’t promise I will do it every year.  

Two years ago, I decided to send New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards. I found that liberating, giving myself a few extra days and deciding I could say Happy New Year anytime in the month of January. That’s my plan this season.  

What’s the most stressful these days, however, is the expectation of a family picture. The majority of cards from families are picture cards, or at least have a picture enclosed. There are 12 of us now and by the time we get everyone positioned for a picture, someone is crying or running away.  

That’s just the adults. The children and babies add an entirely different dimension.  

I kid, of course. But getting a picture of everyone is no small feat, and there are the inevitable comparisons to the ones we receive that look perfect, as if a professional took them.   

You see, I can’t hire a photographer because I spend any discretionary parts of the Christmas budget on the tree.  

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather.