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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Gathering around the teetering tree

Published Dec. 24, 2014

Not to get all Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye on everybody, but one of the things I love most about Christmastime is honoring all the deeply ingrained family traditions of the season.

First is the annual argument over the Christmas tree itself. Do we get a real one, or finally succumb and go the phony route? The Bombshell of the Balkans has been humoring me for years by patiently going along with the yearly schlep to the tree lot, where we have the obligatory debate over which shrubbery to adorn the living room.

The fun is only just beginning. Next comes the annual exercise of planting the tree in the stand, where after the fifth or sixth try we finally get the cockamamie thing to stand up straight. I treasure these moments, since I've been able to learn all manner of not-so-mumbled, unique Greek expressions of irritation, frustration and annoyance, including but not limited to "buffo," which often seems leveled in my general direction.

Ah, memories. The year the house's entire plumbing system chose the holiday to stop plumbing. The year we decided (against my better judgment) to fly to Chicago (circa 4 degrees) for Christmas and didn't realize until we had arrived at the airport that I forgotten to put the Sunflower of Sparta's luggage in the trunk.

There was the one year when after all the delightful excitement attending to the decorating of the tree, it fell over. Attempts to tie the tree to the wall were not successful, resulting in the dispatching of the tree to the curbside (insert colorful Hellenic observations here) and the last-minute trip to find a replacement.

Joy to the world.

Of course what would Christmas be without Sky King the Elder and Plato to the Younger heaping ridicule upon the sentimental parent who insists on including an orange in their stockings? Why an orange? Because as a boy, the parent always found an orange in his stocking each Christmas and thus has grown fond the ritual. Said parent is a sap for tradition.

While inside the house is festooned with Yuletide decorations, I have never been particularly keen on the outside light displays for two reasons. First, there is no way I can compete with many of my neighbors who go all out each year with glittering reindeers, inflated Santas, Nativity displays and more blinking lights than the Las Vegas Strip. There are moments when I can't tell if it's the Christmas season or if Wayne Newton is about to open at the neighborhood community center.

Second, if you are going to go the lavish route, this invariably requires climbing up to the roof, which given my accident-prone luck has emergency room written all over it. Ladders = nothing very much good. Instead I prefer the minimalist outdoor decoration route with a few nicely placed wreathes, poinsettias and single red light bulb flashing from a wooden Santa's nose.

This, of course, induces more ridicule — part II. The rolling of eyes, optional.

I have learned from painful childhood experience it is never a good idea to get too experimental in the gift-giving department. To this day, the family scar tissue is still all too raw from the 1960s when my father alighted on the brilliant idea to present my mother, whose idea of exercise was pulling a credit card out of her purse, with a set of golf clubs under the tree.

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Spend your days with Hayes

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She was not amused. And the rest of what should have been a festive holiday instead turned into a nuclear winter of frostiness that made Good Friday look like the Fourth of July. Good times.

There are too many advantages in marrying into a Greek family to mention, not the least of which is I get to be the tallest person in the room. But this time of year also brings with it a household filled with the aromas of traditional Greek cookies, Greek appetizers, Greek pastries, Greek meatballs as well as the traditional Christmas Day dinner.

And isn't that the ultimate tradition? Not the food. Not Christmas tree moments of high melodrama. Not the lights, or lack thereof. Not the eccentricities. It is, at the end, the union of families coming together to share the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful of the moment. Love binds families. Stories of the holiday sustain the memory of why we join one another around a table.

My greatest gift is a stocking full of Yule yarns, mostly at my expense. Chances are you feel the same, too.

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