By Ashley Lodato

In previous years I anticipated with great glee the misadventures of those who tried to create lasting meaningful memories for their kids by tromping for hours through waist-deep snow to find the perfect Christmas tree, but recently people’s experiences with cutting their own trees seem to be as picture-perfect as an LL Bean catalog, and there’s no story in that. But I’ve begun to realize that the holidays are in general an unmined treasure trove of potential misery, pitfalls of suffering lurking near every tradition.

That’s right, because no matter how Instagram-worthy your Christmas tree hunt might be, you cannot dispute the fact that the act of actually getting it set up in the house and decorating it is guaranteed to provoke if not outright family warfare, then at least a little marital sniping and sibling bickering.

First of all, consider this: You are bringing a giant live plant, covered with needles, into your home. Next, you are attempting to make it stand up majestically, perfectly vertical, with only a flimsy little tree stand from Target to hold it straight. This process usually involves one spouse crouched on the floor, face-first into needles and sap, holding the base of the tree while the other spouse wobbles on the top tread of a stepladder, yanking the top of the tree this way and that, and yelling at the kids, “Is it straight now?” It never is.

Next, stringing the lights. If you made the mistake of cutting a spruce, particularly a Blue Spruce, you might as well go buy an industrial size pack of Band Aids now, because blood will be shed. Half of your light strings will inexplicably be dead, despite being in perfect working order on the final day you used them last year. And the replacement strings you bought have different bulbs than the old ones, so halfway up the tree your lights change from white light to soft light. Your guests won’t say anything, but you know they will take note.

“First World problem,” you remind yourself, as blood from your lacerated fingertips drips onto the box of heirloom ornaments you pull from the attic, trying to ignore the tinkling sounds of shattered glass within. Your mother-in-law will be sure to notice the absence of that one special ornament; you’ll blame its demise on the children.

If the kids aren’t in tears yet they will be soon, once they realize that you forgot, for the fourth year in a row, to buy candy canes for the tree.

By the time you’ve restored the kids’ moods with some organic artisan hot chocolate — whose carton you will strategically place in the background of the Christmas card photo you’re about to post on Facebook — you’ve calmed yourself down enough to remember that this is all part of the joy of Christmas: doing the things we dread for the people we love.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP

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