I promised a story on Wednesday about Christmas trees. Here it is in all it's dysfunctionality and puzzlement. Reader beware. It's really is the Chevy Chase, Christmas Vacation, craziness in your tree kind of story.
It all has to do with perception of course. Perception of straightness. I wasn't infected with this until I met my husband's family. They're German. Live in Germany, cleanliness is next to godliness, compulsive-obssessive things must be exactly correct, German. And I mean that in a nice way. I just didn't really understand it until my first Christmas with the family.
That very first Christmas I spent with them, I had just moved to Germany and begun a Master's program at the University in Kiel. I was homesick and far away from home, almost at the north pole, I was so far north.
My then boyfriend - now husband - asked me to come home with him to meet his family for that quiet, gentle, highly functional event - a holiday. And not just any holiday. The mother of all holidays - Christmas. I was foolishly in love and said "yes" right away. This was a sign of commitment, right?
There were many many many embarrassing moments that trip, mostly on my part, with my lack of understanding of nuance in the German language, a very small apartment, and cultural craziness.
But the highlight of the whole weekend was when my husband and his mother put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, as is traditional in Germany. His father didn't help. This is important. I didn't either. We each had our reasons. His I've never figured out. Mine, well, it had to do with safety. They put real candles on trees over there. And light them. I was already way out of my league. What if I put a candle on wrong and when it was lit, it burned down the whole apartment. I didn't think that would be good for "deepening" the relationship. So I watched.
No words were necessary for the subtle family dynamic that ensued after the tree was up. My husband and his mother put it up. They carefully decorated it. They put on the glass ornaments, the silver icicles, the candles, the tree skirt, and then stood back to admire their handiwork. I have to admit, it looked good.
Then my soon to be father-in-law walked in. Grimaced and said, "Es ist total schief." Which means, "It's totally crooked." And then walked out.
I was puzzled. Didn't he want to fix it?
Ah, not exactly.
My husband and his mother walked in, looked at the tree, cocked their heads left, then right, then left again. "Do you see it?" my mother-in-law asked. My husband shook his head.
Still, they pushed the tree in one direction. (It had looked straight to me before, and it still looked straight now. So maybe I wasn't the right one to ask. They didn't, by the way. This was a "family" thing.)
Twenty minutes later, my father-in-law walked in, took one look at the tree and said in a more exasperated voice, "It's totally crooked!"
I still didn't see it, but my husband and his mother came back in, tried to straighten out whatever "schiefness" there was to the tree, and then left again.
I was absolutely sure they'd gotten it right.
This ritual went on the rest of the day, all the way up to church and after and into the next day. I'm not sure the tree ever got straight enough for my father-in-law. And he didn't ever try and fix it.
I don't pretend to understand what happened exactly. I've never seen this ritual in any other German household, but who knows. I chalked it up to family dynamics. However, it's begun to invade our house now, in a new way. Our trees are always crooked. So crooked that one fell down last year, spilling that delicious tree water all over the floor and breaking a few ornaments.
So....maybe it's good to be obssessive about straight trees, but we can't seem to master it. I spent five hours "watching" our nine foot tree on Tuesday because it had begun to lean all on its own. Don't ask me why. My husband came home, puzzled. How had that happened? To avoid last year's disaster we made it lean toward the front windows. This way, if it falls, it'll hit the window. Okay, there's the chance the window might break, but if it doesn't we've save the ornaments. Pretty smart, right?
Just don't tell my father-in-law.