We decorated the tree last night. The process was eminently enlightening. We discovered that certain ornaments are creepy (a wooden cat with a string you pull to make his legs splay open, for example); certain ones are too partisan (an elephant was relegated to the box, whilst a donkey was allowed to swing free on the branches. my mother has steadfastly refused to display the special edition white house ornaments we get each year from a lobbyist my father knows. "not while he's in office," she says). Xander is partial, I've discovered, to old-fashioned looking ornaments: simple, wood, Christmas-y. I seem to be partial to animals and flamboyantly colored, almost garish representations of things like musical instruments that have very little to do with Christmas, really. I spent a good deal of the evening worrying that he would find our tree--a rainbow assortment of bicycles and baubles, and creatures and angels, with its colored lights and ramshackle stand--too camp, too California, having strayed too far from the Christmas ideal. He, I think, spent most of the evening worrying that my family now thinks he's very bizarre (he is, but not a one of us is in any position to judge).
The result of his careful arranging, and our wrestling with the tree to get it into the stand, is actually very pleasing--the result, I suspect, of our both having been in charge of Christmas in our respective houses for so long. The tree is just the right balance of tradition and unabashed flamboyance--California meets Charles Dickens, or something. The ultimate Christmas compromise, and it works very well, as it turns out.
I am now sitting watching how the tree handles the daylight: have you ever seen a fully dressed Christmas tree in California sunlight? It looks utterly out of place, no matter the season. But I may as well not be in California at the moment, for I am on the couch, and Xander is talking to relatives in Oxford whose voices I can hear, and the house phone has just rung, and someone from another part of the state is on the line. We are inundated with communication, and wildly, absurdly global, it seems. The world shrinks and then expands at our whims: we are in the remotest spot, where cell phones do not work and radio crackles gently, but we have technology at our command, and can close ourselves off to the outside, or open up to it, at the tap of a key.
And then there's our Christmas tree, with its motley array of ornaments, a product of compulsiveness and--perhaps a better word here--care. Yesterday we had a lovely lunch at Chef's Touch in Solvang (a respite from the faux-danish-ness); panini-pressed sandwiches followed by a persimmon pudding. We overheard the chef discussing the pudding: his Grandmother's recipe, he said, and, when we inquired after it, also "what sealed the deal with my wife". We had to have some--not only to see what such a powerful pudding in the flesh, but also because, you have to admit, "persimmon pudding" sounds wonderfully poetic--almost erotic, the sort of food I imagine Greek gods and goddesses licked from each other's fingers whist draped in swathes of golden fabric and ivory robes.
The pudding was indescribably delicious (the gods would not have been disappointed, I assure you), but what was equally delicious was the care the chef seemed to be putting into his work. I don't just mean putting into his food, either, though clearly there was that: I mean also the way he interacted with his customers (just the two of us and a middle-aged man with a beer and a sandwich), the way he prided himself on the persimmon pudding, the way he cheerfully gave us our portion "compliments of the chef" and invited us to the open house later ("we've got to dress the tree," we said. "oh, screw the tree!" he cried. "no, we're not going to do that," Xander said back. "it would be very prickly."); the way I felt, after having eaten, sated both in spirit and body, as if I was part of something, a good something, and it was completing me, and I was completing it.
So when we came home and decorated our little tree, each of us bringing the expertise of years and the prejudice of place, and reached a tidy balance (example: we've never had white lights on a tree before, but this year, they hang alongside the colorful ones), you could call us compulsive, or downright weird (and you'd be right, on a superficial level). Still, I'm inclined to think it's necessary care: what is the point of doing something, especially something symbolic, or something important, or something that earns you a living, or something that holds weight and meaning, if you don't take care?