“Christmas Perfection,” Dec. 17, 2018

My mother often told me to be careful what I wished for.

“What you want,” she said, “isn’t always what you need.”

I thought of those words as I watched a stream of water roll across my living room floor.

This is a Christmas story. I’ll start at the beginning.

Recently my husband and I were talking about Christmas.

“I want a real tree,” I said.

“Why?” he asked. “What’s wrong with our fake one?”

“You mean, besides the fact that it’s fake?”

“I like that tree!” he said.

I like it, too. We bought it 12 years ago after we moved to the desert and watched three freshly cut pines drop all their needles before we gave up and got a fake one. That was then. This is now.

Six months ago, we moved back to California, to the house where I raised my children and where, every Christmas for 35 years, I had a real tree.

“Who knows?” I told my husband. “This could be my last Christmas. Or yours.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“I want a real tree,” I repeated.

“Fine,” he muttered.

So we drove to a lot, bought a 7-foot fir, took it home and set it up. Then I poured a pitcher of water in the tree stand.

“That’s plenty,” said my husband, the evergreen expert.

“Nah,” I said, “a little more.”

I refilled the pitcher and began pouring again. Then, without warning, the tree stand started to overflow. Like Niagara Falls.

We mopped it up with every towel in the house, then stood dripping, staring at the tree.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. He ignored me.

“We need to slide the tree closer to the wall,” he said, “but the stand is still full of water and it will slosh.”

Then he went running out the door. I wasn’t sure he’d be back. But he showed up minutes later with a bucket and a hose.

“Here,” he said, “put the end of this hose in the tree stand.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to siphon it out!”

I pictured Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” proudly plugging in the Christmas lights.

Then my husband got down on the floor and started sucking on the hose, spitting mouthfuls of nasty water into the bucket.

I wish you could’ve seen him.

I tried not to laugh, but he heard me snorting. I won’t repeat what he said when he nearly choked on a fir needle. An hour later the floor was dry, towels were in the wash and he was speaking to me again.

“The tree smells good,” he said. I grinned. Then we finished the lights, put the angel on top, fell into bed and slept like the dead.

The next day I added feathered redbirds to the tree, along with bunches of red berries and the snowflakes my grandmother crocheted for me long ago.

Still, it wasn’t quite … perfect. So today I made garlands out of red plaid ribbon and looped them through the branches.

It’s still not perfect. Neither am I. But it’s done. And I’m done, too. Done decorating. Almost done buying gifts. And totally done wanting perfection.

The lights on the tree are uneven. The snowflakes are showing their age. The redbirds are losing feathers. The berries are falling on the floor. And the garlands are twisted like streamers on a maypole after the dancers got a bit tipsy.

But at least it smells good. I will always remember that lovely scent. And the sight of my husband, bless him, sucking water out of its stand.

My mother was right. What we want isn’t always what we need.

I don’t need a perfect Christmas.

I need only the perfect gifts that Christmas brings: Joy and laughter. Family and friends. A baby born in a barn to be the savior of the world. The scent of a real tree. The sound of “O Holy Night” (“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”) And maybe the taste of a few snickerdoodles.

What could be more perfect?

Here’s wishing you and yours a perfectly glorious Christmas.


  1. Jill Nickerson says

    About 15 years ago when my 2 kids were young I decided that if I wanted everyone’s help with the tree decorating that I had better make it fun. I had a friend that took weeks to do her tree and never let anyone help because it wouldn’t look perfect (and it really does look perfect!). So, we put the tree in the stand, had all the decorations laid out nearby and I called my friend. “Lee Ann, start the timer!” I said. 15 minutes later we called her back to announce that our tree was done! 2 years ago my husband made a lazy susan for the tree stand and we finished in record time – 6 minutes and 30 seconds! It never looks perfect but for those 10 minutes or so we are all in and having a wonderful time. Christmas is never perfect but time with family is always precious.
    Merry Christmas!

  2. I read your column in my local newspaper and want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Years from Phelps NY

  3. Nanci Waters says

    Merry Christmas to you and Mark and the whole big extended family! I know you will enjoy every minute! May your pine needles last for weeks and here’s to a happy 2019… with God’s love and ours. 🙂

  4. Wrennah Gabbert says

    Merry Chistmas & Happy New Year to you & yours. Thank you for sharing with us!
    Wren 🎉🎊❤️✌🏻

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    Oh my goodness… it’s not nice to write such a hilarious story without warning old ladies to use the water closet first…. I laughed so hard I almost… well… you know. I decorated so much with poinsettias and garland that I made the mistake of thinking, out loud, “you know, it looks so nice – we don’t even need a tree!” That was enough to spring the baby (18) out of his chair and into the garage. He threw the huge fake tree (in the box) over his shoulder and charged into the house with it. “We are having a tree!!!!!!” Oh my…. before that moment I was actually mulling over the real tree idea – but he had the fake one up and lit before I could say a word. Didn’t want to spoil his victory 😀

  6. Merry Christmas to you and your family! Love your non perfect Christmas.

  7. I, too, am at fault for always seeking “perfection”! My children swear that there are treatments and medication available for my condition! 💞

  8. Pamela Dailey says

    I love this article so reminds me of a few Christmas bumbles in my and my husbands 35 years together raising children and trying to get Christmas perfect for them. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Keep writing your columns I look forward to them !♥️🙏

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