I LOVE decorating for Christmas. It makes the house feel so warm and inviting and it looks so cozy adorned with all the Christmas ornaments I’ve gathered and handmade over the years.
Every year I spend a day working on the windows. Every window gets cleaned and decorated with snowflakes, a string of multicoloured LED lights and bows for the curtains.
Then, (as mentioned in my previous post) I spend two days changing out my candle holders and candles, bringing out and putting on display my cherished Christmas collection. On this day I also decorate the fireplace mantle with a large wreath, an evergreen garland, lights, our Christmas stockings and candles (of course).
The fourth day is spent putting up the tree. I never get a real tree – I am a firm believer that trees shouldn’t have to die for Christmas. Over 20 years ago I bought a lovely fake Blue Algonquin Pine with about 3000 tips and I’ve used it every year since then and I just love it. It’s a lot of work to get it put up and to dink around with all of those branches to get it looking just perfect, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
Once the tree is up I painstakingly set about adding the lights. I’ve got quite a collection of mini lights that I’ve purchased over the years. I also have one precious set of twinkling lights that are my very favourites. They don’t flash on and off together in a series - that tends to give me a headache. These lights gently twinkle on and off – one light here, one light there, in a random fashion. I wish I could find more of these but even though I check the stores every year my search hasn’t turned up anything like them.
I start by sorting the lights into 3 piles – very bright lights, medium bright and dim. I also locate and put aside my precious twinkling lights, then set about lighting the tree. I like to have lights throughout the tree – not just around the outside but all along the length of the branches. I place the brightest sets of lights first, making sure they are distributed evenly, then add in the other sets – always keeping everything properly balanced. The last set to go in is my string of twinkling lights.
When that’s all done I spend a day or so walking around the tree, adjusting lights and branches here and there. Usually around this time my husband will come along and make some random comment about how he hopes one day they will find a cure for the sickness I have. I ignore him.
Once I’ve decided that the lights and the branches can’t be anymore perfect I prepare to start placing the decorations on the tree. And this is where my paw prints start hurting. Fifteen years ago my Christmas tree was a wonderland of movement – I have special ornament hangers that plug into 35 bulb strings (you remove a light and plug the ornament hanger in its place) and it spins slowly around, to showcase my favourite ornaments. I used to love to drape the tree with tinsel icicles and the tree was adorned with ornaments from the top right down to the bottom – every bottom branch held ornaments that hung down under the tree. I always got complements from everyone who saw my tree.
Then fourteen years ago I went on a business trip, and when I came home my husband surprised me with a cat. Christmas was never the same. I quickly learned during the cat’s first Christmas that hanging ornaments from the bottom branches was a bad idea. He would lay under the tree on his back, amusing himself batting the ornaments around until they fell off, then he would bat them around on the floor like a hockey player skilfully stick-handling a puck. When he would tire of his game he would just leave the ornament somewhere on the floor where it would ultimately get stepped on by someone. I also realized that having moving ornaments on the tree was a no-no when the cat lunged into the tree to try to grab one of them. Finally all the icicles had to be taken out of the tree when I caught him choking to death and managed to extricate a knot of tinsel icicles from his throat.
But I wasn’t deterred – although I missed all those things I simply changed the way I decorated the tree. No more moving ornaments, no more icicles and nothing hanging below the bottom branches. Oh the cat still drove me crazy because he would crawl under the tree skirt and mess it all up and he loved to chew the branches of that fake tree. I don’t know what it was about the branches – the plastic, the metal or something about the smell but I would always catch him chewing on the tree. I used to worry that he would electrocute himself chewing through one of the light strings, but he never did. I even gave him a small piece of a branch that broke off the tree as a toy, but he preferred to chew the big tree. Every once in a while I would find a branch all twisted out of proportion and when I would grab it to straighten it, it would be all cold and wet and full of cat slobber – eeeewwwwwww!
Oh and I couldn’t decorate the tree with the cat around – no way! He would get into everything – sitting on top of boxes and causing them to collapse, digging around in bags of ornaments, getting tangled up in garlands. He used to drive me crazy so I would have to lock him in a bedroom until the tree was finished. Then I would act like nothing happened and would stay away from the living room after letting him out because I wouldn’t want him to notice that I had decorated the tree. But within seconds of letting him out he would be down in the living room messing up the tree skirt, chewing on the bottom branches and being a pest.
Last year, the week before Christmas his health deteriorated practically overnight. He went from being fine to barely being able to walk three days later. He was 14 years old – he’d had a good life. We took him to the vet – the only thing she could do was to prolong his suffering, so four days before Christmas we made the heartbreaking decision to send him over the rainbow bridge. It was a sad Christmas – it took me weeks to stop bursting into tears every time I thought of him. I missed him so much and I still do.
This year, for the first time in 15 years I can use my turning ornament hangers again. I can drape my tree with as many icicles as I want to and I can hang ornaments from all the bottom branches…and it’s breaking my heart. As much as I want to have my tree look the way it used to, part of me wants to keep it the way I had it when the cat was here.
We let that cat get away with a lot of stuff. We loved him and spoiled him and in return he loved us back. He always had the big end of the stick because no matter how annoying he was, no matter how precious the thing he just knocked over and broke, he had such an innocent little face that you just couldn’t get mad at him. Almost a year later he still has the big end of the stick, and today he’s using it to poke at my heart.
In memory of my Fripouille (pronounced free-poo-ey) – my sweet, crazy, much-loved cat. Christmas just won’t be the same without you buddy.