The holidays can really try the patience of us single types. You can’t open a magazine or watch a TV show without some jeweler trying to convince you that nothing says “solitary” like no solitaire. But one holiday tradition people often think of as the province of couples –decorating the Christmas tree–never makes me feel conspicuous, lonely or lesser in any way.
It all starts with the hunting of the Christmas tree, a Yank family tradition. The Northern Virginia locals (and any non-local Yanks who happen to be around) pile into the car, drive out to the western edges of Loudon County, and traipse through the countryside in search of the perfect specimen. Only once in my life, in 2008 when I was dating a man 11 years my junior, have I brought a significant other on the hunt. I haven’t ever given a moment’s thought to the fact that I’m almost always the only Yank without a plus one, probably because I’m too busy having fun with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew to notice.
I will admit to feeling my singleness for a few minutes every year when I get home with the tree, because I usually have to haul it from the car to the house. This doesn’t require brawn so much as a high tolerance for discomfort, because carrying a Christmas tree by yourself is like waltzing with a six-foot porcupine. Getting the tree into the stand is also not the easiest thing for a person to do by herself. I crouch or lay down on the floor to steady the trunk in the stand with one hand while tightening the screws that hold it in place with the other, having virtually no idea whether the tree is in there straight. I figure that out when I stand up, or when the tree falls on top of me.
But once it’s in the stand, that’s where any feelings of loneliness end, because I never decorate my tree alone. I bought my first house in the fall of 2002, and it had a great room that begged for a Christmas tree. I gave the great room what it wanted, even though I owned almost no ornaments. I invited my then-best friend Joseph over to help me decorate it. This took us two hours: 30 minutes to string up lights and hang ornaments, and 90 minutes to drink wine.
Over time, this became a tradition. As I acquired more ornaments, the length of time required to trim the tree varied, and every now and then someone else joined us, but the decorating-to-drinking ratio never changed.
In 2009, I met my future ex-husband. I was essentially living with him by the time Christmas rolled around that year, so we put up a tree together at his house. (Though my partner in decorating crime had changed, I saw no reason to change the decorating-to-drinking ratio, even if the beverage of choice was high-end champagne instead of wine of questionable vintage.)
As romantic as it was, I’d have told anyone who asked that it couldn’t hold a scented candle to the purely platonic tradition of my past. Tree-trimming at my house had centered on having fun. The Christmas tree was just a different backdrop for my and Joseph’s shenanigans. We weren’t setting out to achieve a particular aesthetic beyond finding a place of honor for my prized Spam ornament.
I divorced my husband and got a home of my own in 2012, and I’m pleased to report that my special brand of tree-trimming, single person-style, has returned to its former glory and then some. Last December found Philippa standing in my living room, holding a tangle of lights which I helped her sort out by pouring a glass of wine.
A new friend helped me decorate tonight (and for this I must apologize to my not-so-new friend, Max, who was going to help me this year). We had a great time, despite the fact that his first instinct was to conceal the Spam ornament from view. As I have every year that I’ve decorated a tree with someone besides a significant other, I’m basking not just in the glow of the tree, but in the way that it feels all the more special because the boughs aren’t weighed down with romantic meaning.