Squawk Radio

Thursday, December 22, 2005

On the TENTH day of Christmas the Squawkers bring to thee... SUSAN KAY LAW


I grew up in a Christmas family. We lived in small-town Minnesota, my Mom’s family is Swedish, my Dad’s is German, and he was a Protestant minister. In short, we did Christmas up right. Shortly after Thanksgiving every decorative item on the first floor of our house was taken down and replaced with holiday decorations. And we’re not talking something tasteful, restrained, and Martha-Stewarty, fashioned from birch branches and natural straw. Nope, we went for red foil, blinking lights, cardboard angels, candy-striped candles . . . and to a young girl, absolute magic.

Part of the reason we celebrated so much throughout December was that Dad had to work Christmas. (That preacher thing.) Christmas Eve and Day were a little rushed, because the specter of “getting to church” always hung over us. When I was a teen, he served two churches at the same time, including a perfect little country chapel, miles from any town, surrounded by snow-covered fields and topped with a classic white spire. It was a tiny place – I doubt it held a hundred people – with a beautifully carved alter. On Christmas it was always packed, warm inside even though it was absolutely frigid outside. We’d darken the church until it was lit only by candles and the service always concluded with Silent Night sung in German. And every year that was, for me, the moment it became Christmas.

My husband’s from China. I always thought that one of the great advantages of marrying him was that we’d avoid that whole “whose family do we spend Christmas with?” fight. His family’s on the other side of the world and they don’t do Christmas anyway. So obviously we should do it MY way. Hey, I don’t question how he celebrates Chinese New Year, do I?

But that was before the great Christmas tree war. Every year he complained about getting the Christmas tree. It was a hassle to go stand outside in the cold and pick one out; to haul it home, terrified the entire time it was going to go shooting off the top of the car; to get it to stand up in that unbalanced stand; to take it down, and then pick up all the needles all over the place, which were many because of course somewhere along the way we forgot to water it and it turned into a fire hazard a week before Christmas. In short, he figured plastic was the way to go.

I emphatically did not agree. While I understood the inconvenience factor, heck, if easy was a criteria for how we did Christmas, there’d be a lot of things we wouldn’t be doing. A fake tree, for me, was like him shoving a plastic rose at me on Valentine’s Day . . . it just wasn’t going to cut it. Half the point of having a tree was how it made your house smell; without that scent, you might as well throw a couple strings of lights over the recliner in the corner, ‘cause all you’re getting out of the deal is blinking lights.

Not to mention I figured half the problem we had with the real tree was that we always ended up with one that was a foot taller than our ceiling. I was okay with a smaller tree. Every year he left the house insisting that, this year, he’d get a little tree, a downright tiny tree. He blamed always dragging home a monster on the fact that he brings at least one kid along to help select it. But I maintain the problem is his acute case of “Male If-big-is-good-bigger-is-better syndrome,” and for proof I need only refer you to our basement and the window that was not there when we moved in. It was cut to allow entrance to the big honkin’ television he had to have even though only way to get it in was to cut an SUV-sized hole in the wall.

Anyway, about ten years he put his foot down. He was not putting up any tree that wasn’t artificial. I said no tree that wasn’t real (except the two-foot tall ceramic one my Grandma made in pottery class, and that doesn’t count because it’s from Grandma) was coming into my house.

I was sure he’d cave. He was certain I couldn’t live through Christmas without a tree. Our kids started getting worried about December 15. By the 20th, they were whining. By the 23rd, they decamped to my parents’, who had a beautiful (and I should note, real) tree.

So that year passed without a tree. And without, I must admit, my husband getting a whole lot of jollies under the mistletoe.

I suppose, in the spirit of Christmas, here’s where I should put something about how, in our stubbornness, we both lost out that year, and how we learned something sappy about the true heart of Christmas not being found under a tree, real or otherwise.

But the truth is we’ve had a real tree every year since. It’s no longer a foot taller than the ceiling, but that’s only because we moved and our living room is twelve feet high.

I won, I won, I won! Ho, ho, ho.

So I’m wondering . . . what are your absolute, can’t-give-it-up-no-matter-what, Christmas traditions?

Susan Kay Law is too busy trying desperately to catch up on her Christmas shopping to write a clever bio. And you all know everything important about her already, except this: after twelve American historical romances (the first of which won RWA's Golden Heart Award, the last of which won RWA's Rita Award) she is now writing contemporary mainstream fiction for Berkley. Is it not, she insists, chick-lit. However, "Pissed-Off-Forty-Something-Lit" comes close. (And she swears there is not one shoe brand name mentioned in the entire thing.) Her website's at http://www.susankaylaw.com/
Connie Brockway, 6:17 PM