O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, You really are a cat toy

At some point this week, perhaps even today, I will stand a live fir tree in the bay window in my living room, my small way of buying my family’s six cats’ affection for another year. Trust me, there is no better cat toy than a Christmas tree. As much as my cats enjoy a rousing game of turd hockey and eating things that will cause them to projectile vomit, they love climbing the Christmas tree far more.

In another life, I wouldn’t mind coming back as one of my cats. Before I figured out how to lash an evergreen to the bay window frames as if it were a suspension bridge, twice my family’s cats managed to topple the tree.

When I was a boy, we did not have cats. We had dogs. Dogs really don’t care about Christmas trees. We had one mutt, Harvey, who was unbelievably loveable but so dumb that I had to demonstrate to him how to go to the bathroom outside. Not kidding. We got him as a puppy when I was twelve years old, and it must have taken us six months to house-train him. Finally, in desperation, I took him outside and started peeing on trees in our backyard to try and give him a sense of what we were after. That Christmas he did indeed take the hint. . .and he peed on the Christmas tree in the living room.

Ironically, it wasn’t a live Christmas tree. When I was a child, my family never had live trees. We had artificial balsams, one green and one white, and we had those classic motorized color wheels: Imagine a plastic wheel the size of a Frisbee, divided into quarters, with each section a different colored pane. Behind it was a small spotlight. The panes were blue, orange, red, and white. You plugged the wheel in and pointed it at your tree, and as the wheel spun, the tree (and your tinsel) would become the color on the wheel.

Except, of course, the color wheel only had the desired effect if you turned out all the lights in the room. Otherwise, you barely noticed the slight color changes. Also, as I recall, you had to seriously blast your Lawrence Welk Christmas album to drown out the thrum of the color wheel motor.

The tradition of bringing an evergreen into the house dates back to fifteenth-century Germany. I am guessing the Germans were looking for really big cat toys.

John Jensen, assistant manager of the Christmas Loft on Shelburne Road, says that even though his store is nestled snuggly in northwestern Vermont, they still sell a lot of artificial trees. They have faux firs that are chartreuse, silver, red, flocked white and green, and one that is bright yellow. My mother would have been in heaven.

Actually, my daughter is in heaven whenever she goes there. It was the first place we went when she came home from college for Thanksgiving break last month. She raced into what the store calls “Center Village,” a massive collection of lit trees, and said, wide-eyed, “This might be my favorite room on the planet.” This year, the Christmas Loft also has trees decorated along the following themes: Roaring Twenties (a black tree with gold and white ornaments), Bohemian Women (pinks and purples and blues), and Cleopatra (Egyptian glass).

Although I applaud themes, you will never see my family trim our tree with lit candles. I have friends who do, but they don’t have six cats. A little flame on a big tree is an episode of “Let’s Play Hindenburg” waiting to happen.

Nevertheless, I can’t imagine my living room this time of year without the magic of an ornate, majestically decorated tree. O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, how loyal are your needles. . .which, in a month, will be clogging my vacuum. In the meantime, I am off to trim a seven-foot tall cat toy. Bring on the color wheel.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on December 4, 2011. Chris’s most recent novel, “The Night Strangers,” was published in October.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.