If I’ve learned anything since setting out on my own in 2006 — a phrase more Horatio Alger-y than “moved out of my parents’ house when I graduated college” — it’s that my folks did a lot of things for me that I never even knew about.
You have to buy paper towels and toilet paper, for example, because apparently they don’t simply appear from beneath your sink when you run out.
Neither do trash bags. I mean, who knew that you actually had to buy plastic bags to put your trash in? Oh, and by the way, they’re not cheap unless you love releasing gutteral screams when the off-brand bags you bought tear wide open, spilling the contents of your trashcan all over the kitchen floor.
You have to find your own doctor, dentist and someone to cut your hair so your dad doesn’t call you a hillbilly when he comes to visit.
Your car and apartment don’t clean themselves, and your laundry doesn’t show up neatly folded on your bed.
Someone makes all that stuff happen. Someone, in my case, named Mom and Dad.
But of all the things I’ve learned in the last six years, none was more eye-opening than what I found out that first Christmas on my own — the Christmas tree doesn’t put itself up.
This was surprising because, growing up, I would always walk into our family room sometime after Thanksgiving and there would be our fake tree in all its faux majesty, the same tree we had been hanging our ornaments on since switching from real pine when I was younger.
How the tree got there every year, I could never be sure, but Christmas was nothing if not a season of magic and holiday miracles so I kept my head down and didn’t ask any questions.
And so we would throw on some Christmas music and gather around our magic, self-erecting tree to hang our ornaments, its branches bending under the weight of such family favorites as the rappelling Santa Claus, the hockey ornament my parents bought during the 1980 Winter Olympics and an ornament of me as a child dressed in what appears to be a darling flannel dress.
My mom swears it’s a jumper, but I know a dress when I see one.
For the duration of the holiday season, we love our tree.
We adorn it with tinsel. We bathe in its glow as we watch football games and movies beside a roaring fire. We put our presents beneath it on Christmas Day.
And then, sometime after my New Year’s Day, then just vanishes. The ornaments. The tinsel. All of it gone and, in its place, the recliner from my parents’ bedroom.
My mom, I have since learned, puts up our Christmas tree and is saddled with the depressing task of taking it down each and every year.
It is yeoman’s work.
I say this because I, too, am now a yeoman and am responsible for putting up and taking down my own tree.
Every year, I trudge to my storage unit to retrieve my 7-foot-tall piece of holiday cheer and drag it and its stupid, heavy and awkwardly shaped box up three flights of stairs, sweating, and likely swearing, all the way.
I reshape the tree’s branches, which were crushed when it was hastily crammed back into its box sometime in early January. Or February, if I was feeling particularly lazy that year.
And after I’ve hung all of my ornaments and stuck the star on top, I gaze upon my tree and think about my parents, who have made so many difficult adult tasks and responsibilities look effortless. Talk about magic.
This week, in honor of what Clark Griswold described as “that most important of Christmas symbols,” our playlist is composed of songs dedicated to the Christmas tree.
Love your tree, and it will love you back. OK, maybe not, but take a moment to smile when you turn its lights on. It’s worth it.
Boris Karloff, “Trim Up the Tree” — How can you not love a song that includes words like “pantookas” and “whiffer bloofs?”
Nat King Cole, “The Happiest Christmas Tree” — A little cheesy but isn’t everything this time of year?
Sufjan Stevens, “Put Lights on the Tree” — A charming little song that sounds like a Christmas tree looks.
Great Lake Swimmers, “Hang a String of Lights” — Not a classic Christmas song but maybe it should be.
Martin Sexton, “O Christmas” — Martin Sexton could sing the phone book, and I’d listen to it. Beautiful and a little more folksier than any version of this song you’ve heard.
She & Him, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” — A little less rockabilly than Brenda Lee’s original but still works.
Stevie Wonder, “One Little Christmas Tree” — A song that makes you want to buy every tree in that Christmas tree lot.
Bing Crosby, “Is Christmas Only a Tree?” — To answer your question, Bing, no, Christmas is also tinsel and those marshmallow Santas.