When Traditions Collide

I come with several decades of Christmas ornaments.

When I was younger, we made them as a family: snowmen with top hats, skiing pandas on popsicle sticks, plastic apples with our names in gold pen. As we grew up, the ornaments were store-bought and commemorated a hobby or some significant event: a soccer player for my brother, a cheerleader for me, bears in convertibles the year we got our first cars, a glittery globe for my first trip abroad, a filigree of Sather Gate when I graduated Berkeley.

During my first December with my husband, Alberto, I brought out the ornaments.

A sea of mementos slowly crept across the dining table.

From the couch, Alberto raised his eyebrows.

You’re putting all those up?

They’ll fit! It’s a big tree.

He got up, examined a badly painted dough figure in the hollow of a walnut.

Seriously? he said.

That’s the first ornament I made, I squealed. I was, like, three!

He laughed, shook his head and went back to the TV remote.

You’re not? Going to help?

Um, no. This is your thing.

I couldn’t comprehend it.

My dad and brother had always participated in this ritual.

I was newly married and a little devastated.

Hadn’t yet realized that everything in a marriage isn’t met with mutual enthusiasm.

So I decorated the stupid tree with a pout on my face.

I may have done a tequila shot in the kitchen.

On Christmas Eve, he grimaced as he unwrapped SIX ornaments from our respective families and me.

And then.

He handed me a box: a flaming, Mexican-style heart decorated with the words ‘I Love You.’

The following year, I dressed the tree without pouting on a December night when he worked late.

By Christmas No. Three, as we drove back from Jersey with an evergreen on our convertible, he announced that it would only be fair if we switched off the Christmas-tree theme every other year.

What does that mean? I asked.

This year, we continue your Craft Land Adventure. Next year, we do an all-monochromatic tree. The lights, the ornaments, everything. I’m thinking white or silver.

Does this mean you’ll help me decorate? I laughed.

Are you kidding? I will art-direct that motherfucking tree!

When Christmas No. Four was within sight, I reminded him about the monochromatic tree.

Right, we need to do that.

The second weekend in December, I mentioned it again.

Honey, he smiled, how would you feel about not getting a tree this year? I mean, we’re leaving for Quebec in 10 days and then we’ll just have to pack everything away when we get back…

I did not interrupt to say that, actually, I would have to pack everything away when we got back.

Instead, I agreed.

Not getting a tree sounded brilliant. And practical.

I did not give him an ornament on what became his last Christmas.

He didn’t get me one either.

And as we celebrated the holiday from our suite in Montreal, neither of us gave two shits about ornaments or trees.

Tré Miller Rodríguez lives in Manhattan and her first book, “Widow in a Party Dress: A Love Story,” is currently under consideration for publication. To read excerpts, please visit WhiteElephantIntheRoom.com.


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