My family didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year. It might be a first. As far as I remember, we’ve had a tree every year since Clare was born, and that includes the year we were living in Taiwan.

Several factors went into this decision, none of them big enough to suggest any significant life changes. First of all, Manyu and I knew Clare wasn’t coming home for the holidays. We still saw her for Christmas, but it was at my mom’s house instead of our own. No Clare at all would have been a big change, but seeing her at my mom’s is not different from seeing her at home. Secondly, Manyu has always been ambivalent when it comes to Christmas trees. My Taiwanese wife embraces my favorite holiday more enthusiastically than I do hers (i.e., Chinese New Year), but she has no childhood memories associated with a tree in the house.* Thirdly, the place I usually go to cut my tree is only open weekends, and this year I was too busy to get one early in December. By the time I was ready to go, the tree farm had sold its quota for the year and had closed. I could have picked up a tree at a tree lot, but I’ve always cut my own tree and wasn’t excited about getting one downed by someone else.

Four years ago I thought I’d found a well-shaped Scotch pine at the tree farm, but when I cut it down, discovered the tree had branched right at ground level. After I cut through the primary trunk with a hand saw, most of the tree fell, but a third of it remained standing. The tree farm is huge, and I doubt the owner would have cared had I left the results of my error lying in the snow, but I am of the opinion that if “You cut it, you bought it.” I brought the misshapen tree home. Hiding imperfections by turning them toward the wall works when a tree is missing a branch or two. It does not work as well when the entire backside is gone.

As I look out my window this morning, I am watching the sixth or seventh measurable snowfall of the year. My neighbor Pat is clearing my driveway. For years he’s done my driveway whenever a storm brings more than half foot. Right now there’s barely two inches on the ground, so I think Pat just wants to play with his snowblower. He only does the driveway, so later I will go out to shovel the walks. If you ask me today, snow out my window captures the season better than a Christmas tree. I’ll see if I feel the same way in March. 

* December 25 is a quirky holiday in Taiwan. When I lived there in the early 1990s, it was a national holiday called Constitution Day. Back then, the normal workweek was six days, but this was offset by multiple days off for minor holidays. When Taiwan transitioned to a five-day work week, some official holidays were “demoted” by the government. Constitution Day was among them. Today elderly people in Taiwan think of December 25 as Constitution Day. Young people are more likely to consider it Christmas.

Steven Simpson