I did not grow up in a highly religious environment. I don’t mean that we simply didn’t go to church often. I am talking about a profound and total lack of religion. Example: Once, when I was just a little infidel, as I was riding by a local church with my parents, I became very excited when I spotted a “lower-case t” atop the steeple.

Paul Wong
Andy Taylor-Fabe

If this is not proof enough of my relig-norance, consider another episode from my youth. My brother and I once had a lengthy argument centering on his insistence that Santa went with Christmas and Jesus went with Chanukah. I think the prevailing logic at work in that little deductive gem was the separation of the fun and the boring. I also think that on some level he still secretly believes it.

But his sentiments, however confused, actually reflected our extremely secular, present-oriented way of celebrating Christmas. This is not to say that we were reveling completely in the detestable and empty commercialism that grips our country from mid-September through JC’s birthday, but come on, give any five-year-old the choice between Legos and Jesus, and see which one he chooses.

In short, I am more religious about sandwich preparation than I am about Christmas. However, there is one tradition that my family has upheld every year: The tree. Our indulgence in this originally pagan ritual was rivaled only by our devout adherence to a strict regimen of Christmas cartoons.

During my childhood years, we would do the classic family outing to the Christmas tree farm, where we would pick out a noble and majestic tree and enjoy an afternoon of quality family time and reverent contemplation of Christian love.

OK, that’s a filthy lie. It actually involved a lot of arguing, cold wind and being covered head to toe in tree sap. But it was still fun, and there was a saw involved, which to any child, makes the trip worthwhile.

Over the years, however, as energy diminished and sullen adolescence took hold, our destination changed from the idyllic farm in the country to the parking lot of Kroger, where a mulleted stranger would haggle with my dad over the price of the pre-cut Christmas trees and where the usual Bing Crosby Christmas carols were replaced with Skynyrd tunes blasting from the guy’s grungy tape deck.

I guess the dwindling hardiness of the whole Christmas tree deal started to get to my dad, because last year he decided that it would be a great idea to get a live evergreen instead of a tree that was doomed to rot and turn brown in our compost heap. Instead of cruelly propping up the dying tree in the tree-stand like Jesus on the cross, we would take a living tree, decorate it, keep it in our living room until Christmas and then plant it in our backyard, making it a part of our home forever. Touching, right?

We failed to take two things into account: First, the root structure of your average seven-foot evergreen weighs about as much as a small car. You think tying the tree to the top of your car is a pain in the ass? Try schlepping a tree attached to a burlap sack containing a small hill’s worth of dirt. I think our neighbors had hernias just watching us bring it into our house.

But more importantly, we did not think about the fact that at the end of December, the ground is frozen fucking solid.

This would have been a hilarious realization had it not been for the fact that I knew exactly who would be digging the hole in the backyard. That’s right, I was out there on Christmas Day playing Cool Hand Luke, getting my dirt out of the Boss’s yard.

Even worse than the top layer of frozen ground are the deeper layers where the ground gets soft again. I did not anticipate having to move shovels full of soupy dirt pudding from this gaping hole in the planet, but that is exactly what I had to do. (I can’t explain why this layer was so unfrozen, but based on the depth I was forced to dig to, I can only assume that the magma in the center of the Earth was heating the ground.)

But it was worth it, because after all that hard work, the tree was stone dead within six months.

My dad couldn’t explain it, but I think God was finally punishing me for my childhood drawings of him in which he bore a striking resemblance to Gandalf the Grey, hat and all … C’mon, it was a compliment! But my dad continues to hope the withered trunk will be gain new life like a phoenix from the ashes, or to flex my biblical muscles, like Lazarus. He was the ark guy, right?

So this year, we went the opposite direction. We waited until Dec. 23, found a scraggly tree that Charlie Brown wouldn’t be caught dead with and haphazardly threw the ornaments on. This was a tree that would die if you glared at it too long, so there were no delusions of eternal life or backyard glory. It went to the pauper’s grave in the back corner of our yard just like all of its fallen brothers.

But is that what Christmas is all about? A wise man once said that it was about “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.” That man, of course, was Linus. He was wrong about one thing, however. That tree sucked, and in real life, adding ornaments does not make the tree grow more needles.

– Andy Taylor-Fabe can be reached at andytayl@umich.edu.

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