At Christmastime, most people deck their halls with boughs of holly. At my house, my husband and I come close to decking each other. My husband, through no fault of his own, is Bosnian. This means he is hard-headed. Literally, his head is like a solid chunk of concrete. Looking up stubborn in the dictionary, one will find a picture of Adis Dijab, though, infuriatingly, the man has the nerve to say the same thing about me.
This also means that as a child in Bosnia, with little to no religious foundation, though culturally Muslim, he has no tradition of celebrating Christmas. He has no fond memories of twinkling tree lights glowing softly in a darkened living room or the near rapture of waking Christmas morning to a stocking full of tiny treasures.
We are all about a secular holiday in my house. This is not a religious bone of contention between us, but rather one of differing aesthetic values and individual levels of tolerance for hanging by one arm from a shaky gutter trying to staple gun a Christmas light wire without puncturing through the protective plastic coating and electrocuting yourself.
The dangerous effort expended to hang holiday lights 20 feet off the ground just doesn’t make sense to him. To me, the world as I know it depends on this.
It began on November 27, 2011, a day that will live in infamy, with the hanging of the outdoor icicle lights. The previous year he refused to hang my new lights, bought on clearance two years prior and never taken out of the box. I was not going to let him get away with that again. These lights were now 3 years old and I insisted that we were going to decorate the house like Santa’s Workshop or we would die trying.
A couple of hours later, and a lot of language that I cannot repeat here, including some in a language that I cannot even pronounce much less translate, and he concluded that his job was now complete at a satisfactory level of “good enough” and went back in the house to watch his beloved European soccer teams.
“Good enough” is not good enough for Martha Stewart and it is not good enough for me. I spent the next hour conquering my fear of heights by inching up and down a wobbly ladder, being ripped apart by thorny shrubbery and straining delicate neck and shoulder muscles in an attempt to stretch the last THREE feet of lights along the gutters to cover the very last inch of rooftop.
THEN, the next day, November 28th, 2011, as it is known, we nearly had a domestic violence incident over the tree. There are “real” tree people and “fake” tree people, and no offense to the latter, but a fake tree will be erected in my house over my cold, dead, lifeless body.
We had been married for 10 years at this point and we were together 3 years before that, which means we had had the “Battle of the Christmas Tree” for 13 years. I always win this battle and I always will, because Christmas decorating traditions are important to me, and eventually his lack of conviction either way causes him to cave to my demands, but that doesn’t mean that I am immune to the holiday spirit being violently sucked out of tree-decorating day.
In previous years, my husband had tried to claim that it was “cruel” to the tree to kill it for a holiday decoration. This was from a man who eats lambs, goats and anything else he can chase down in the barnyard. Literally, he grew up eating animals that grazed in his backyard and had names, so I didn’t buy his compassion-for-the-tree bit and saw it for what it really was, an attempt to not have to put up a damn tree…THEN, when that didn’t work, he tried the whole “green” angle by telling me how horrible it was to cut trees for Christmas. Seriously thinking he did not know any better, I told him that these trees were grown on farms for the sole purpose of being Christmas Trees. I wasn’t depopulating a forest, for God’s sake.
I also showed him an article once that said that artificial trees were harder on the environment. At least my tree could be recycled and would never claim valuable space in a landfill, but these reasonable talking points did nothing to dissuade him. He was sticking to his concrete-headed guns, as if I did not know that it was really because of the amount of work involved in getting a real tree home and in the stand. And I wasn’t asking him to lumberjack one out of a dark and dangerous forest. There were no tools or physical exertion involved, I was simply asking him to drive to Lowes, where there is a well-lit parking lot and a sales associate who trims the trunk, wraps it in netting and helps you load it on top of the car.
On this day of our Lord, November 28, 2011, the installation of the Christmas tree was a particularly difficult one. The tree, prior to decoration, thank God, fell three times. BUCKETS of water flowed over our hardwood floors which we soaked up with giant bath towels and during this flood of 2011, we finally had to lay the tree down and saw off so many lower branches that the tree now looked like the opossum equivalent of road-kill.
Swear words, in two languages, were hurled at the tree and at each other. At one point, I apologized to our daughter, who was 6-years-old at the time, and sitting quietly on the couch, watching this and having her childhood memories of Christmas destroyed.
I sat down with her afterwards and calmly explained that this was not normal. That for most families, music was playing, hot chocolate was being served and cinnamon was bubbling on the stove. The decorating of the tree was supposed to be a happy, family event that was enjoyed by all. I explained that I hoped someday, in the not too distant future, that I could erase this day in her memory and supplant it with a happier one.
As my husband tightened the screws in the stand one final time, in an effort to FINALLY stabilize the tree, now barren of its lower limbs, the noise he was making was somewhere between the mewing of a kitten and the whimpering of a little girl.
But, as we stood back to admire our handiwork, this time the tree held! It was up and it was beautiful. The house was fragrant with the scent of fir.
My husband very seriously stated that he refused to put up a tree ever again. He also refused to water the one we just went through hell to get in the house. He says the tree was now my sole responsibility.
A year passed, and by Christmas of 2012, the pain of this incident, like childbirth, had faded enough for him that I was able to con him into it yet again… though not as graciously as one would hope. As Christmas 2013 approaches, I look forward to our loving family tradition of screaming swear words, hurling insults and threats and singing holiday carols by the fire. Merry Freakin’ Christmas to all and to all a Goodnight!