Christmas Combat 

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In the battle between the sexes, the time of the winter offensive is at hand. Veterans of past campaigns feel it in their bones as snow whitens the peaks of the Wasatch Mountains. It’s the time of the Christmas tree.

The onset of Yuletide hostilities is inevitable. The battle lines are identical to those of last year and the year before and the year before. At issue is a divergent vision of a tradition grounded in a real conifer, Bing Crosby and cookies made with butter, not shortening.

The first skirmish flares up in the city’s tree lots. One skirmisher seeks a perfect, bushy Scots Pine at a bargain price; the other wants to cut his losses, buy a skinny fir and withdraw to a warm place with a TV set.

She appraises each tree with a first sergeant’s eye. “It has a flat side,” she says dismissively.

“You can put it against a wall,” he counters, eyeing his watch.

“Here’s a nice one,” she smiles.

“It has a dent in the middle.

“We’ll get $10 off and you can fit in another branch,” she says.

She carries the day. He drags the tree from the battlefield. It’s home to where the cheap tree stand from Kmart'not the cast-iron beauty from Brookstone'waits.

With the tree stowed in the garage, a temporary truce allows for a few days of diplomacy. It is the season of goodwill, after all. Then, she announces sweetly, “We’ll put the tree up next Saturday.”

In the wife-mother camp the expectation is that Saturday will bring seasonal family bliss. Smiling youngsters in green and red Gap outfits unpacking ornaments. The air is redolent of pine, hot chocolate and cookies. Dad, dressed in cardigan and corduroys, whistling as he adjusts the tree trunk in the cast-iron stand. Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.” The Golden Retriever dozing by the fire.

The opposing side is looking to minimize casualties. Delay and defend is the tactical plan again this year. Saturday morning, as diplomacy falters, he searches for the quarter-inch drill bit and enough fine-gauge wire for the branch implant. He knows that the tree stand is an object lesson of the you-get-what-you-pay-for variety.

As an experienced tactician, she has shaped the battlefield to her advantage. She wears a flak jacket that looks like a poinsettia-patterned apron. Kids, cookies and Crosby protect her flanks.

The tension is palpable as he lugs in the tree. He has on the sweatshirt with grease stains. He is grumpy. The stand is wobbly and the grafted branch sags. It takes two cardboard shims before the tree will stand on its own. He untangles strings of lights as the dog sniffs at the evergreen. “Git!” he yells. He crushes a light bulb underfoot, then another. “Damn!” A string of lights goes dark. The tree lists.

The invective escalates heatedly to “s't!” and on to hyphenated profanities that no mother-loving mother can bear, especially at Christmastime. The fight is joined. The kids run for cover. The tree topples over as if shot in the legs. He curses loudly. She slams a door, and in a fury he nails the Kmart special to the floor.

Christmas day brings a ceasefire, and by the time the needles begin to fall, the 2005 winter offensive has lost its momentum. The combatants retire to their marshalling areas to await springtime’s call to arms.

John Rasmuson, a freelance writer, once anchored a Christmas tree to a wall with monofilament fishing line.

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