I freely admit that I suffer from OCTD: Obsessive Christmas Tree Disorder. I put ornaments on the tree from the top down, with the smaller ones at the top and the largest at the bottom. By now, I’ve trained my kids to do this as well, although my husband remains immune to my attempts to convince him that this is really important. I keep my ornaments boxes out when my family and I have finished trimming the tree, because I know that next day, I’ll find bare places in the branches to fill up, or a dark spot that needs something nice and shiny to brighten it up. Yup, it takes a minimum of two days before I can pronounce the tree finished. Where my mom used tinsel, I use bead garlands, and it can take several minutes to adjust a ‘swoop’ the way I want it.
The first ornament that goes on is always the angel my parents bought for my first Christmas tree, the one that fit on a tabletop in their apartment in Germany. The next ones are my girls’ first ornaments, and then the tiny balls that perch on the topmost branches, just below the spire that we use instead of a star or an angel.
Why? Why do I take such pains (and according to my kids, pass them on to everyone else)? Most of the time, decorating anything is as much a challenge to me as a calculus problem. Yet when the Barbie ornament is too close to the teapot, I make a mental note to move one or both of them when their owner is not looking. Not that that works, because the she tells me I’m stifling her inalienable right to put her ornaments where she wants to, and returns them to their original spots. Anarchist.
I learned my wicked ways from my mother, who makes beautiful, magic Christmas trees that range from elegant, with gold and crystal, to whimsical, with toys, Santas and candy canes. She got the knack from her mother, who managed to dress up her aluminum tree by selecting a couple boxes of plain balls from the drugstore. One year Grandma used red and green, another year, shades of sky blue, and another, her favorites: purple and lavender. My college student put our tabletop tree up in her dorm and assured me she placed the ornaments in their proportional places and made sure the wires for the lights were hidden. As my tree-tyrant bosom swelled with pride, the Anarchist just rolled her eyes. I reminded myself that at least one of my children would carry the Persnickety Tree Gene into the next generation, and that the other is getting an A in chemistry.
Then a few days ago, we made spritzer cookies. My oldest and I were happily sprinkling them with colored sugar when the Anarchist let out a gasp of horror. “You can’t just dump on sugar like that! These aren’t just cookies, they’re works of art!” My momly heart overflowed with joy. She might not care if the tree looks just right, but even she can’t deny her Inner Tyrant.