“A Griswald Christmas Story”

Our poor Christmas tree is losing needles as fast as a slashed wrist sheds blood. It’s supposedly a “live” tree that we bought from our florists on the rue de Grenelle. Ferreira, our Portuguese maid, says there is no such thing as a live Christmas tree: “They cut most of the roots off of these poor trees and cram them into these tiny plastic pots,” she pleads, “Do you really think this tree has a chance?”

I don’t want to feel defeated so I ask Vicky not to make any negative comments about our little Christmas tree. OK, I’ll make ONE and then I’ll shut up: It reminds me of a mangy dog; you can see the skin showing through the patchy spots of fur…

But I am not defensive because I chose it; I was busy finding a parking space for twenty minutes while Vicky CHOSE the best one of the bunch in front of the florist’s shop. They were all still with their branches tied so you couldn’t really make any judgments about the tree other than it’s height. I just don’t want to go through the process again. We made a decision, let’s stick with it…

We brought it home and gave it water. The tree keeps the vacuum cleaner busy. And I had to buy more bags for the vacuum cleaner.

Now we constantly see trees that we should have bought instead. They are all over Paris – and connected on to neat little halved logs that serve as a base, unlike the ugly little black plastic nursery pot that came with ours. Vicky likes to remind me of all this. She forgets it was “her” tree but I do not remind her of that. I just remind her, “No negative comments, please. Let’s enjoy our tree even though it is not perfect.”

We let the tree rest in it’s place in our family room for a day or two. I am the light man. My job is to put the lights on. Like taking out the garbage, it is an inherent man’s job.

On the night that we planned to decorate the Christmas tree, I decided to mask the atmosphere of dressing up a mangy tree by creating a small diversion: I made cheese fondue that we could nibble on and sip chilled kirsch while we decorated the tree. It would help jump start the festive mood…

Vicky got antsy. She couldn’t wait. When I brought in the kirsch and cheese fondue, I noticed she had already strung the first strand of lights onto the tree. Rather than run them throughout the depth of the tree, she simply draped them in a wave pattern on the outer edge of the tree and skipped the interior and rear sides altogether.

“No, no, no! You’re doing it all wrong, ” I told her, ”


“You have to put the lights all OVER the tree, besides, these lights are different types and with these crazy flash patterns that you can’t control (the lights always seem to have a plan of their own), you’re gonna have two different things going on and the damn tree is gonna look like an electric tequila sunrise – red on the top and flashy blue on the bottom…”

I took over. Rather than restring the two light strands in an irregular pattern – to mix the two types – I went on with the tequila sunrise theme; I didn’t want to risk more shedding on the tree. But I did redistribute the lights a bit to give the interior and rear some attention. When I finished hanging the lights, I went into the kitchen to finish up a chicken Caesar salad I had made for dinner.

When I bought a tin of anchois (French for anchovies) at la Grande Epicerie, I knew there might be a potential problem. I opened up the can and saw huge, whole, un-scaled fish larger than my thickest finger. They made sardines (as I know them) look like bait material. Well, this here Caesar is going to be anchovy-free! I thought about giving them to Stinky but then his breath is bad enough. I tossed them and reminded myself to take out the garbage pronto!

By the time dinner was ready, Vicky was already underway with decorating the tree. She did a splendid job. The poor little tree was starting to look like a regal Christmas tree worthy of the palace at Versailles – if it were not for its diminished height (approximately six feet with an added foot due to a skinny lone trunk climbing towards the sky.) The tree looked great, it really did!

During our last Christmas in Evansville, I bought timers for the white lights I had in all of our windows downstairs. I plugged the lights into one of these timers which would avoid any further shedding from crawling under the tree to turn the lights on and off. The timer works great – it goes off right before we go to bed and comes back on a little bit before we get up. Even at eight o’ clock in the morning, it is terribly dark in Paris. The tree adds a little cheer to the bleak, Northern European morning…

Well, I thought we were through decorating until Saturday morning came along and Vicky & I enjoyed our coffee in front of the tree:

“This tree really needs something else,” she said.

“No, no…it’s fine just as it is – it really is; you did a great job – I like it a lot.”

The tree has a lot of ornaments and a lot of lights which do a good job of disguising the….well……..never mind………..

I left the room and returned ten minutes or so later. Vicky was draping thick ribbon around the tree.

“WHAT are you doing? DON’T do that!”

“It really needs something…”

this interprets as:

we have this smaller-than-we’re-used-to Christmas tree and we have ALL of these other leftover decorations that we haven’t used; we MUST use them ALL – otherwise, God will punish us if we don’t! Quick, hand me that singing fish thing, maybe I can squeeze him in between the gold angel and this old, one-legged Santa Claus who’s seen better days…

I left the room, hoping she would take my advice. Not a chance. She now had another garland – a shiny one – and was twirling around the tree. I could hear a steady, gentle rainfall of tree needles.

“Honey, that looks like crap.”

“No it doesn’t.”

I left the room again. Now she focused her attention to the base of the tree. She had the Nativity figurines out. There was a problem: they were homeless. No roof. No building. Nada. Joseph & Mary were going to have to rent a tent to entertain the Three Kings who were due in early January.

“I saw a BIG wooden manger at a store near Galleries Lafayette for only 10 Euros,” Vicky announced as she held her arms out very far indicating the size, “maybe we should buy it?”

“Not gonna work – too big.”

“What do you mean?”

“Scale. Something instilled in me from my architect father. Joseph & Mary will feel quite lost in that big house. Even though they are starting a family, it’s STILL too big. Other than those visiting kings, they’re not going to be doing much entertaining. There will be a lot of wasted space. The existing structure doesn’t allow for the addition of a second or third story and those high ceilings are going to be hard as hell to heat – not to mention – very expensive on the energy bill. You could divide it up into condos but with the trouble in the West Bank these days, investing money into housing is not a good idea, especially in Bethlehem…”

“You mean, you think it’s too big for these little figures?”


“Well, their old house must be around here somewhere…” Vicky rummaged through another decorations box. We have FOUR of them. Each the size of a large beer cooler – all devoted exclusively to Christmas.

“Oh look!” Vicky announced, “Do you think these will look good on the tree?” She held up a bead and metallic garland.

“Vicky, the damn tree is going to collapse from any more weight put on it! If you want to use it, drape it around on the material UNDER the tree.”

I left the room again. When I came back in, I was shocked by what I saw:

There under the tree (in addition to the beads) was a foot-tall Santa bearing gifts and laughing [probably at what he saw:] Beyond the large, woven cornucopia with a red ribbon that Santa was about to trip over – were three abstract Three Kings about eight inches tall who were oblivious to the two tribes of homeless Nativitites who had not yet mingled and looked as if they were about to introduce themselves – or declare war on one another; A large gold star that looked like it came off a Parisian monument served as a backdrop and a foot-tall angel quietly took it all in as she guarded the nearby transformer and light timer from any potential acts of terrorism; I wonder – because of her same height – if Vicky was trying to set up something between the angel and Santa…

All of this in a three foot radius!

To non-verbally bring home my point, I went for my twenty-piece socket wrench set. While Vicky was in the other room, I placed each wrench around the base of the Christmas tree in a radial pattern.

She came back in, saw my work and immediately broke out laughing.

To stress my position further I picked up a member of one of the homeless Nativitites – a member of the carved wooden tribe, probably Joseph – and pretended to walk him over to the Joseph of the Opposition Tribe, a shorter race of round people that were paper machÈ and wore stylistic make-up as if they were from China:

” Hey,” the wooden, more realistic Joseph said to the other Joseph, “you sure don’t look Christian…are you a Muslim? Are you from Iraq? Well, buddy, this tree is too small for the two of us…I reckon you better hop on that there donkey of yours and ride outta town before sundown. Comprende amigo?…”

“OK, OK! I get the hint,” Vicky interrupted Joseph…

” Honey, you’ve got too much going on here! It looks like Mardi Gras! Not Christmas!”

An hour or so later I went into the family room and saw that the beads, the angel, the cornucopia and the Three Kings survived the cut. The two tribes of homeless Nativitites hadn’t made the cut. I felt terribly guilty. I sat down on the couch and reflected quietly on the sad situation.

“Vicky!” I yelled to her in the other room, “where was the store that sells those mangers?”

Merry Christmas to You All,
The Griswalds

Can you believe Vicky had all of these guys under one tree?

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