Ornamenting with coach mom

Every household has traditions during the holidays, and growing up, mine was no different. Each year my dad engaged in the festive annual holiday tradition of “Putting Up the Stupid Fake Tree.” In my family, we didn’t hunt our Christmas trees. We also didn’t stuff and mount them on the wall like I’m sure people with real trees did. While actual tree hunting does involve an axe (which is awesome), it also involves things like “cold” and “work,” something neither my father nor myself associate with at this time of year. Or any other time of year. Despite this, I couldn’t help feel a little weird about putting up fake trees. Just like women who get a certain surgical enhancement – they really don’t fool anyone up close.

I should probably clarify that my father’s tradition of “Putting Up the Stupid Fake Tree” should really be called “Taking the Stupid Fake Tree Out of The Big Stupid Box This Is So Heavy Why Is This So Heavy?” He follows this with the time-honored “Put the Star on Top Right Away” before “Walking Away Angry.” This cheerful holiday ritual left my mother and me to assemble it, subjecting our fingers to fake needle wounds that left our hands useless bloody stumps.

“Quit your whining, red is a Christmas color!” my dad would shout helpfully from the couch.

My chief responsibility during this process was always Chief Festooner of Pinus sylvestris – meaning I put stuff on the thing. Some people put one or two strands of lights on their tree. I put enough lights on so that one of the neighbors mistakenly dials 911 thinking our living room is on fire.

“If it doesn’t blind the dog then it’s not bright enough” is my motto – even though we didn’t, technically, own a dog. I don’t even want to be able to see the tree. I want a glowing, radioactive UFO (Unidentified Flaming Object) that requires protective eyewear like you see military men wearing in movies when they’re testing an experimental nuclear device from a mile away.

Ornamenting, which I just found out is an actual word so good for me, is a task in itself that can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 40 years depending on how many ornaments people have given you over the years in place of actual presents. I’m in the process of developing the first Velcro Christmas Tree you decorate by chucking ornaments at it from the hallway.

The weird thing in our house was that the ornaments’ position on the tree was directly proportional to its overall cuteness; i.e., the cuter the ornament, the more visible it is. The golden glass ball given by the Pope that, when shook, displays tiny messages from God in the form of angelic singing bubbles must go on the front of the tree. The faded, chipped hunchback Santa Claus playing the harpsichord? Banished to the back. The mouse with a missing Christmas hat? Don’t even think about it. Back in the box you go.

Ornaments have to make the team each season and we had several that had been routinely benched over the years. The giant Care Bear with the creepy eyes; the half-unwrapped candy cane that smells less like candy cane and more like bats and mothballs; the one-legged nutcracker that no longer cracked tiny nuts, but instead looked like he was in desperate need of an anti-depressant – instead of being thrown away they all somehow get placed back in the box because, just maybe, by next year they will have all somehow healed themselves.

But there were ornaments that, despite their ugliness, always found their way clinging to one fake branch or another. Like the plastic ice cream cone ornament that went up year after year because, as my mother sentimentally says, “I think some kid gave it to me or something. I don’t really remember.” My mother makes these ornament determinations with the decisiveness of a bi-polar head football coach.

Coach Mom: “OK everyone, we have some substitutions going in this year. Giraffe Playing Piano, you’re gone. You sustained that injury lasts season when Kelly tried to throw you on the tree thinking it was made of Velcro. I’m afraid you’re OUT. There’s no way you can realistically play piano without a head. And your reproductive capabilities have been severely compromised.”

Christmas Mouse on clock tower: “What about me, Coach?”

Coach Mom: “Oh, you’re too cute not to put in. I mean, look at you!”

Christmas Mouse on clock tower: “I know. I’m adorable.”

Weird Brass Thing I Think Is Supposed To Be A Stocking: “What about me? I’m really very ugly.”

Coach Mom: “Oh, I have to put you in. I got you in the off-season from Cathy. It was so thoughtful of her.”

While we ornament, my father would wander in to give us the traditional Christmas pep talk.

“Aren’t you guys done yet? I want apple crisp.”

Bing Crosby standing in my living room holding a glass of eggnog, crooning “White Christmas” couldn’t have been more touching. Mostly because he would’ve looked like a decomposing zombie at this point, which is anything but jolly.

Looking back, ornamenting was something special that I didn’t necessarily realize was at the time. It gave us time to talk and reestablish our bond. Unfortunately, that hasn’t transferred to my own children. One takes half the ornaments off the tree and tries to put them on a single branch while the other steals the rest to put on the Christmas tree in her room.

I sigh.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asks.

“I want apple crisp.”

The tradition continues.


Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at vandkel@hotmail.com or via message written on gingerbread house in almond bark. Note: he will eat that house while pretending he’s a giant. Follow him on Twitter @pancake_bunny or he’ll steal all your ornaments, forcing your friends and family to give you only ornaments for the next three Christmases.