Gather Near to Us Once More (That’s Nice)

If I came across as a little particular about Christmas trees, you can blame Meg and John.

I lived with my cousin Meg when I first moved to San Francisco and her then-boyfriend (now-husband) John lived nearby. When December rolled around that first year, it didn’t occur to me to get a Christmas tree. I hadn’t ever bothered to get a tree once I’d left home. But Meg and John couldn’t imagine going without one.

I’d never been to a Christmas tree lot before. My family never bought a tree that I can remember. We decorated whatever branch or sapling my dad found on the property. I wasn’t really conscious of the different types of trees, although I knew that our neighbors had a tree that was so bushy the ornaments hung perpendicular to the tree, and I knew that the cedar “trees” my family had were different than most Christmas trees; the branches were weak and drooped down at the ends.

So I couldn’t have told you that there was a difference between decorating a Noble fir or a Douglas fir, but to Meg and John, the choice was clear: always a noble fir, never a Douglas. Some Christmas tree lots didn’t separate their Noble and Douglas firs, and if John happened to pull out a Douglas, Meg noticed immediately: “It’s a Douglas! Put it back!.”

Going to pick out a Christmas tree with them became a yearly ritual, one I looked forward to every year. It was hilarious to watch them search for the ‘right’ tree and hear their vehement objections to trees that looked perfectly good to me. They’d examine every Noble fir in the lot, shaking it out to see if the branches were even and looking for any bare spots. Meg would gasp in horror at a tree that was bushier on one side than another. “Put it back!” she’d cry. “It’s hideous.”

Our Christmas trees during those years were always beautiful so maybe their thorough selection process worked. If nothing else, I found it highly entertaining. These days, I usually pick out a tree for Mr WholeHog and I, and I spend hardly any time choosing it. Often, I buy the first tree I see. The Christmas tree farm that comes to our farmers market only brings silver tip trees so that’s what we get. I think they’re perfect. I even prefer them to the Noble or the Douglas firs. But I wonder sometimes what Meg and John would think of my tree, what sort of defects might be apparent to them. Some years, I’ve even emailed them a picture of my tree.

I think about them a lot this time of year and about how much fun it was to be with them each December, laughing until we cried in the Christmas tree lot. I remember how upset John was that one year when he pulled out his new Christmas tree lights only to realized that he’d bought a huge net of lights, the sort of thing you’d drape over a large outdoor bush, not string around your apartment-sized Noble fir.

It’s fun to share other people’s delight in Christmas, which is probably why we often think Christmas is really for kids. It rubs off on you. Those years with Meg and John made me someone who now can’t imagine going through December without a tree (and I’m terrible about taking it down. Our tree is often still up in the second week of January).

A week or two ago, I visited Meg and John at their home in Marin. As expected, they had a huge Christmas tree in their living room. It was perfectly formed, of course. There were no patches with fewer branches. It didn’t lean to one side. But it was bushier than I’d expected and if I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn it was a Douglas.


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