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Each family member has own reasons to cherish the tree

Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out

Do you think it will fall at all? I asked Andrew as we scrutinized our newly purchased Christmas tree a few weeks ago. We saw many good trees that day, but none that were great to our eyes: while all were healthy and hardy, many lacked that picturesque symmetry. We bought our tree on the thesis that its branches hadn’t yet relaxed from its tight shipping binding.

We decided to let it rest overnight and decorate the next day.

Morning came and the tree was still misshapen. Some strategic decorating was required to fill in the gaps: tinsel looped through gaps, and heavy ornaments placed on branches that were too vertical in the hopes of gravity working its magic.

To the casual observer, the tree is gorgeous. The new metallic mesh fabric looks much fresher than the ribbon we’d been using for years (originally bought as wedding decorations a decade ago). I also hunted down more pink ornaments so the tree better matches our decor. But I’m still a little disappointed whenever I look at it. We’ve been lucky over the years, lugging home towering trees that looked like they could have come out of a box had I not witnessed Andrew chop them down.

I’m not necessarily a perfectionist or particularly vain when it comes to decorating. In fact, I don’t even have an idealized Christmas tree of my youth to remember through rose-coloured ornaments. When I was a child, our family tree was actually a source of derision for my siblings and I, when we were old enough to notice these types of things. It was definitely short, and, even though it only ever made the trek from attic to family room, it was somehow missing a branch. The running joke was that our parents could never resist a good deal, including a “slightly irregular” Christmas tree.

Our parents protested that the tree was exactly how it should be. And, looking through photo of Christmases past, I think I get it. They bought the tree the same year they married: the sparse tree matched the sparse decor of the then-newlyweds’ home. As the years progressed, the tree went from being decorated solely with store-bought ornaments to a riot of colour created by us kids: ratty popcorn strings, Styrofoam balls dripping with glitter and glue, drawings edged in rick-rack, and cartoon characters gleaned from fast food meals.

It wasn’t a tree worthy of a magazine spread on elegant holiday decorating, but somehow, we still cherished it. My brother and I would wiggle under it to watch Christmas specials on TV, or absentmindedly gaze up through the branches and enjoy how the multi-coloured lights reflected on the cacophony of decorations. And, despite all of our jokes, setting up that tree was a special event. When we were old enough, my brother, sister and I took over the decorating duty from my mother, reminiscing over the awkward creations of our childhood, and just spend time together after being apart at university.

Even though Andrew and I bought an artificial tree the year we married, we prefer having just one tree, the fresh one on the main floor. Since our house is also a funeral home, we’ve tried to keep its decorations understated while perpetrating the evergreen’s traditional and important message of life and hope during winter’s darkest days.

While we’ve tried to keep the tree elegant, look closely and you’ll find some whimsy. There’s a few dachshund ornaments given to us by thoughtful friends, and a pink squid that caught Charlotte’s eye last Christmas. And then there are the crystal snowflakes, which are classically beautiful but, more importantly have sentimental meaning: I gave my husband one the Christmas that we got engaged, and we’ve since been buying them annually. It’s the only collection we have, and its growth symbolizes our life together.

As much as we want Christmas to be perfect, it never is. To wit: this year, one of those lovely crystal ornaments came out of the box broken, and will be amateurly repaired with a glob of crazy glue. We’re taking consolation in the fact it was our least-favourite ornament of the collection! That being said, however, this time of year is filled with huge expectations, whether you’re a little girl dreaming of a pony under the tree, or a mother wishing that you could have one holiday meal without any family fights. Everything around us tells us that Christmas needs to be perfect to be memorable: how much pressure is out there to get that perfect gift or cook that perfect holiday meal?

Much like my tree of discontent, we need to shrug off this pressure and appreciate what’s in front of us. When I look back on this Christmas, the tree will likely be a minor player. Instead, I’ll remember the jokes shared over Christmas dinner, and Charlotte’s reactions to what must seem like some bizarre behaviour. The ridiculous becomes the sublime. The imperfect begets perfection.

After all, that first Christmas — in a drafty manger in Bethlehem — probably wasn’t what Mary had in mind for her baby’s arrival. But it all worked out in the end. And my parents’ tree — in its imperfect glory — has created a standard that my own family is only now starting to live up to.

May your Christmas be gloriously imperfect!

Much like lopsided trees and silly ornaments, cream cheese is one of those ingredients that is fundamentally ridiculous — oh, that bleached block of saturated fat! — but it sure produces some sublime-tasting things. Here’s a simple last-minute treat that makes perfect use of this kitchen staple.

Oreo Truffles
(from kraftrecipes.com)

26 Oreo cookies, finely crushed
1 block of cream cheese
16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Reserve 1/4 cup cookie crumbs. Mix cream cheese and remaining cookie crumbs until blended. Shape into 48 (one-inch) balls. Dip in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-covered rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Decorate as desired. Mint Oreos and white chocolate are a particularly festive combination.

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