O Christmas Bush, O Christmas Bush

My paternal grandmother’s trees were a family joke. Whereas most people prefer a tall and stately fir, she specialized in picking out the fattest, fluffiest, roundest scotch pines she could find, giant balls of green that took up half her tiny apartment living room. One year she had one that was wider than it was tall, and festooned it with gold ribbon and big bows. Her sons teased her mercilessly about the hedge she’d cut down and planted in the living room. We’d all gather at her house, for peanut butter balls and whipped-cream fruit salad and brown sugar ham, in the afternoon on Christmas day, and my father and his brother would have wrapping paper fights like they were ten-year-olds, stick bows on each other’s heads, and the younger kids would root for presents under the Christmas Bush.

Grandma Hantschel passed away last January, and I went to look for a tree today. I leaned more towards my mother’s side’s idea of a tree, a spindly thing with more reach than bulk, but today, I hauled home a fat scotch pine, and it’s sitting in the corner waiting for lights and ornaments. A true Hantschel Christmas Bush. It isn’t as wide as she would have liked it to be, but the tree skirt she made for me when I married is spread beneath it, and I think, all things considered, she’d approve.

Tell me a holiday story, guys.


12 thoughts on “O Christmas Bush, O Christmas Bush

  1. When I grew up back in small town Missouri, my brother and I had the pleasant job of getting a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree was a “cedar” tree, actually a juniper tree, and we would grab a saw and head for a wood lot a couple of blocks away (out of town, that’s how small it was). For an hour or so we would play Indian Scouts, wandering through the forest looking for the perfect “cedar” tree, which was always about 12 feet tall, compared to our 7 foot ceiling height. Once we got tired enough we would settle for a little 8 footer, saw it down, and begin the long hard trek back home carrying the tree.
    My dad would usually put the lights up – the same lights, year after year, and my brother and I would alternate argueing and putting up the rest of the decorations. My mom would make popcorn balls and peanut brickle candy. Then, for a couple of weeks the house would have the real Christmas smell – fresh cedar, and the radio would play Christmas music. Being poor could be a lot of fun back then.

  2. There was this time i read the sweetest story ever…
    I actually use a 3 foot tall plastic yard-style light-up snowman as my “tree”. But I don’t have kids.

  3. In the early sixties in LA, my mom’s mom used a tinfoil tree with a rotating color-wheel in one room and in another room sat a sprayed-white tumbleweed. She did it in order to escape the annual cost of trees, and help save a tree.
    The tree didn’t matter, the presents were joyous and the dinner was too.

  4. One Christmas back when, my family was hosting a couple dozen relatives for the holiday dinner. So the tables have been pushed together, the folding chairs pulled up, everyone’s settling down. My mother is about at the end of her rope dealing with everything, including my grandmother (her mother), who was at one end of the table.
    Grandma had always been a pretty dour, life-is-hard person and those qualities had only intensified as she had gotten older and frail. So, in addition to getting all the food out on the table, my mother is trying to cater to my cranky grandmother. Grandma was very particular about her food-there was a lot she couldn’t, or wouldn’t eat, so my mother had been patiently giving her little bits of things to taste ahead of time so she could see what she could safely serve her during the meal. The last of these was a tiny bit of gravy in a little tiny bowl so Grandma could taste it and give it the thumbs up or thumbs down.
    So, everything’s finished in the kitchen, there’s 20 plus relatives crowded around a table heaped full of food, and my mother, frazzled and flour-sprinkled, up since dawn, is the the last one to sit down before the meal starts. “Everyone okay? Anyone need anything?” she asks before she sits.
    “Well…” my grandmother pipes up. She casts a pitiful glance down at her tiny empty bowl that my mother had forgotten to replace with a full plate and pathetically warbles, “I could use a little more gravy.”
    Everyone in the family STILL tells that story.

  5. When I was a little girl in Philadelphia (also in the early 60’s) we spent Christmas with my grandparents, who were Jewish immigrants from Romania. To my grandfather, who was actually a fairly observant Jew, Christmas was the ultimate American holiday.
    There was never a tree, but there were always presents and songs (and holiday TV shows, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer, Mr. Magoo as Scrooge, and Frosty the Snowman). My grandfather would hide in the living room while we were eating dinner in the kitchen and call out ho! ho! ho! in his strong foreign accent. My sisters and I alway accepted him as Santa w/out question.
    I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore (though I still enjoy other people’s Xmas celebrations, cooking and wonderful music), but my family and I take a lot more comfort in Jewish holidays than we did when we were kids.

  6. well, one year my mom decided to cut on of the big spruces from in front of our porch for a tree. let’s just say it was fucking painful to decorate. it also sayed up til about march as nobody wanted to deal with dismantling it.
    after years without, a tiny sad looking balsam was purchased to test the spares. so far they are laying on the tree ‘skirt'(when the new psycho ‘twinkling lights not on-will be returning those!). only non-breakable ornaments.
    so far, neither cat has taken their 1st paw of tree water. cosmo LOVED tree water.

  7. ok, my keyboards fault. maybe popcorn problem.
    it’s DOWN, not on.
    how long did it stay up? was it april?

  8. That’s hillarious! Does every family have to have its curmudgeons, either male or female? I just keep hoping when I finally agree to be old that I won’t fit into that category.

  9. Somehow, as my two brothers and I got to be high school and college age, it became our job to go out and buy the family Christmas tree.
    One year, I forget exactly why (maybe Pat’s law school finals were that late), but it was Christmas Eve morning before we were all finally home and ready to go get the tree. We go to the first tree lot – closed up, all trees gone. Second lot, same thing.
    I think it was the fourth lot we went to where, even though the people selling the trees were gone (it was after noon by now), there were still a handful of trees left on the lot. We looked through them and picked out the least objectionable one (and it wasn’t as bad as you might think; Not great, but not horrible.)
    The funny thing is, while we were standing there, two or three other cars pulled up looking for trees. So not only did we get ours for free, but if we had wanted to, we could have sold a couple, and made a profit.
    That was the last time Mom waited for us to get her tree for her.
    – robertearle

  10. In 1995, we adopted our first kitten (we had adopted an adult cat several years before). This kitten was teh crazy – my husband accidently peed on her head when she ran into the bathroom and jumped up on the toilet seat mid-stream to figure out where the running water sound was coming from. (He learned to close the door after that.) She also ran away with a roasted chestnut I was shelling, getting the bitter taste of the shell on her tongue and running in crazed circles, foaming at the mouth.
    So for several years, until her mature and spayed self settled down (and got too fat for acrobatics), we bought a 3-foot tree and hung it from the ceiling. She would gaze in wonder at it from the ground, and try to rocket up to it, but it was an old apartment with high ceilings and even she could not make leap.
    It’s fun having a full-size tree, too, but I miss those crazy kitten days.

  11. The lights go on first, then the ornaments. The tinsel goes on last, and it’s vital that it go on one strand at a time. Thus it has always been…

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