It took us six years of searching to finally find a solution to one of our most vexing annual problems of the holiday season. Namely, finding the appropriate topper for our Christmas tree.
This sounds like a minor problem because, honestly, it is. But for my husband Cavin and me it has been not a source of friction but of regular frustration. Although he’s Buddhist and I could most charitably be described as agnostic, having a live Christmas tree each and every December has become one of the key rituals of our relationship. For him, it’s a part of his acculturation as an American; for me, it’s a reminder of my Kentucky roots.
The decorations are easy enough. We have two large boxes of those stuffed away upstairs, ready for deployment each year in the days after Thanksgiving. And just like when I was a kid decorating our family tree, each of the unique ornaments reminds me of a story behind it — the pretty porcelain piece given to us by another couple, the frail glass ones that Cavin picked up in Provincetown, the small picture frames with whimsical Christmas drawings by my sister.
But every year the top of the tree has remained naked. I am no fan of angels sitting atop Christmas trees, at least in my own house. This is in large part because most of the tree-topping angels we’ve seen in stores appear to have flown directly out of a Thomas Kinkade fever dream of fluffy pastels, rosy cheeks, copious lace and heavenly trumpets. Christmas angels take everything that’s gaudy about Christianity and dress it up in velvet. And then they add glitter.
We’d fared no better in our search for a star, most of which resemble Bible-school craft projects. I believe Christmas trees should embrace a certain amount of cheesiness — flickering lights, or perhaps a bit of tinsel — but like all good camp, there has to be a line of ”this far, no further.” Blinding stars that look lifted from the Vegas strip are past that line.
This year, during Thanksgiving, one of Cavin’s aunts was passing out small, carved Buddha statues that dangle from tightly woven red cords, intended to hang from the rearview mirror of your car. I took one in part because I was rather touched that I would be included in that part of their lives, having earned my own piece of spiritual protection to have with me on the road.
More shallowly, I’m also entertained by the mild visual culture clash of dangling the very Vietnamese Buddha charm from the rearview mirror of my overtly rednecky and kinda gay Camaro. Always keep ‘em guessing.
Anyway, once Thanksgiving had wrapped up and we had put up the tree with its bare apex, I saw that our aunt had left one last Buddha behind. He was a large Buddha, the iconic fat and happy one. And what is a fat, happy Buddha if not jolly?
So in a moment of holiday eureka, up on the tree he went, a solution far greater than the minor problem it solved. The Buddha sits on top of a tree that combines so many of the disparate elements of our lives together: immigrant, rural, Buddhist, (ex-)Christian, gay, traditional and liberal. Like any relationship, not all those things go together equally well at all times, but that’s the point of a Christmas tree for me. It’s the jumble of disparate elements that come together to make something beautiful and compelling and memorable.
With a perfect finishing touch on top, of course.