For the first time since moving back to the United States from Taiwan in the early 90s, I didn’t put up a Christmas tree. Two factors entered into this decision. One, Manyu is somewhat indifferent to the holiday. I have Christmas, she has Chinese New Year, and neither of us feels the other person’s big day in our bones. I asked Manyu whether she wanted a tree, and she said she liked going to the tree farm to cut down either a balsam fir or white pine, but otherwise would just as soon not have one. With Clare not coming home for Christmas this year, I opted not to get one. I strung some lights on the front porch, hung a couple stockings in the family room, and left it at that. One of the things Manyu does like about Christmas is the movies. This year, along with The Christmas Chronicles and Klaus, we watched The Man Who Invented Christmas. It is the story of Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol. I had to stop the movie every five minutes to explain aspects of the storyline. Manyu did not know who Scrooge, Marley, and Tiny Tim were.
The second reason for no tree is that Manyu, Clare, and I still go to my mom’s house for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We aren’t even home the days the tree is most important. When Clare was born I wondered when we would stop going to my mom’s for the holidays. The answer seems to be “never,” although the reason is more about where than when. It was the years I lived in Boston, San Francisco, and Taipei I didn’t make it home for the holidays. On the first Christmas after I and my new Taiwanese wife moved to Wisconsin from half way around the world, we visited my mom for Christmas – and have gone there every year but one.
The one exception was 2008. We were back in Taipei for the 2008-2009 academic year. Clare was nine years old, and I wanted to give her Christmas in a city that didn’t celebrate Christmas. I tracked down a two-foot potted tree and decorated our apartment. Manyu invited friends and family to a Christmas party. None of them had ever been to one. She asked each person to bring one gift costing no more than 500 New Taiwan dollars (about US$20), and the small task of picking out a present threw most of them into a panic. Taiwanese/Chinese tradition is to give money in red envelopes, and they did not know how to buy a Christmas present. We drew names the evening of the party. My gift came from my mother-in-law, and it was cash wrapped in a red box instead of a red envelope. When I opened it, Manyu said, “Good, I owe my mom five hundred NT” and immediately pulled the money out of my hand.
I have noticed more friends with artificial trees lately, and they claim they are convenient and easy. Humbug to that. A synthetic, perfectly shaped tree is only slightly better than no tree at all. I am not disappointed we didn’t have a tree this year, but I’ll probably cut one again next year – even if I do it just for myself.