BY JOHN McLOONE
If I could find some of my writings from when I was a much younger, heartier man, we’d all see how much I’ve changed.
At this time of year, I’d be decrying anyone that has an artificial Christmas tree. Now, we have one ourselves.
Christmas traditions were never meant to change, I’d lecture to whomever my audience was at that time, comparing these fake trees to the same threats on our soil posed by the Red Scare in the 1960s.
Alas, I’ve proven myself to be a fraud. One of my first major journalism assignments in college in the early 1980s was to interview two members of the “infamous” Chicago Seven, anti-Vietnam War protestors who were tried following the 1968 Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago for inciting riots. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman were on a college-speaking tour 15 years later. Rubin had since become a Republican and worked on Wall Street. Hoffman was still a radical. I’m not going to go into that whole experience. Suffice it to say that Hoffman told the packed theater at the university that I didn’t print his whole quote, and I slinked down in my seat. This guy had gone on an about 10,000-word rant about Ronald Reagan, though, and I felt like I got the gist of what he was saying, even though my notetaking didn’t quite keep up.
I’m getting a little away from the topic at hand. Suffice it to say if you want to criticize me, you’re not going to do it as well as Abbie Hoffman did. I learned the thick-skin part of journalism in a hurry.
Back to Christmas. I’m kind of the Jerry Rubin of tradition, I guess. Through at least my 20s, I returned home to help my mom, always a traditionalist, to hunt down the perfect real Christmas tree. My dad didn’t really have an opinion, other than he wasn’t going to be involved either way. It ended when they moved to a new home that had one of these great rooms, and they bought a large tree to fit the space. At the time, I didn’t approve, but it would have been a chore I didn’t want to undertake to get that thing in there and up with only the aid of a 70-year-old woman.
At that time, I was teaching my new family my traditional side. We weren’t the crazy Christmas people who trudge through three feet of snow and cut their own. We loaded into the van and strapped that thing on top. The Saturday morning after Thanksgiving was tree-purchasing day. The closest place with a tree got our business.
Somewhere in there, we started traveling to visit family on Christmas and would have to worry about the tree drying out. Somewhere in there also, I started hating winter more and more, even just short, convenient jaunts. Our kids grew up and with just the two of us and busy schedules, the real tree went by the wayside. I don’t know how it happened, but one day I was lured into a store and ended up with a fake tree in my van. It’s not as profitable as Jerry Rubin’s road to change, but in a matter of years, I’ve got this fake tree in the corner of my living room.
It has its advantages. The dogs have never relieved themselves on it. There’s no need for watering. There’s no needles.
It has its disadvantages. There’s no real Christmas tree scent. This year, I bought a pine-scented candle and lit it to set the mood. It quickly got extinguished. “What’s that smell?” my bride asked. “It’s making my allergies act up.”
We’re officially fake tree people, and worse yet, this year I’ve been informed that we’re also a family that doesn’t celebrate its Christmas on Christmas. Work schedules are in the way, other Christmases are on the docket for some. This break from tradition is hitting me much harder than switching to a fake tree. Maybe it’s all my fault, though. If I would have toed my traditional party line, maybe nothing would have changed.
Anyway, the Christmas celebration will be great whenever it happens. New traditions will come along, but I’ll always remember the excitement on the faces of my kids when they’d make the final decision on our Christmas tree. It was the same excitement on the face of my dad when he found out he didn’t have to put the tree up anymore.