Tinsel War

If there is one thing my father and I agree on this holiday season, it’s that this is going to be, unquestionably, a tinsel year.

You see, my older sister, Jennifer, and I are the offspring of a mixed marriage. My father loves tinsel on our family Christmas tree. My mother absolutely loathes it.

Naturally, some years ago, Jennifer and I were forced to pick sides. I went into Dad’s camp. My traitorous sister sided with Mom. The battle lines were drawn. This type of conflict can tear any normal family apart. Luckily, ours isn’t that normal. Family legend holds, for instance, that back in the “old country” brothers Cormac and Connor Moriarty actually split the family in two over whether it was appropriate to add a cinnamon stick to a burning log of peat. So, at least in terms of important holiday decisions, we have a long history of this sort of thing.

On the eve of a duel to settle the cinnamon issue once and for all, the story goes, both died simultaneously of acute liver failure, leaving matters to their argumentative progeny. Thus remains a simmering conflict. The brothers were too poor to buy a cinnamon stick anyway.

But I digress. Knowing how hard family conflict could be on one’s organs, we eventually entered into an uneasy treaty. As a compromise, Mom agreed that every other year would be a tinsel year. On the face of things, this would seem the perfect compromise. However, time being linear and memories being not, it seems that every year in November the same debate erupts over whether last year was a tinsel year. I’m still convinced that Dad and I got chiseled out of few good tinsel years.

So, why do I love Christmas tree tinsel? Um . . . good question. I really don’t know. It’s terribly tacky stuff. It can take an otherwise beautiful Christmas tree and turn it into a monument to white trash tastes. It melts onto the lights, sticks to the dog and generally gets everywhere. It feels, in a word, kind of creepy.

The only logical conclusion is that I love tinsel because I inherited it from my dad. Just to be sure, I called him up and asked him why he likes Christmas tree tinsel.

“It’s part of the overall experience,” he explained. “Why do you like the leaves to turn in the fall? It’s part of the overall experience.”

I pressed him for a better answer. Give me something tangible, I pleaded.

“Well, it’s home entertainment as well,” he offered, “when the cats yack it up.”

There we go, I thought. In the interest of family fair play (and so as not to unduly fan the flames), I also asked my mom why she hates tinsel.

“How many reasons do you want?” she replied. “For one, it gets all electrified. It grabs onto the cats and they drag it all around the house.” (Editor’s note: You may wish to find a comfy seat. She’s just getting started.) “They eat it and you have to pull it out of their butts. You can’t vacuum it. It winds its way around the vacuum and you have to flip it over and pull it out by hand. It’s so nasty. Children play with it and you look at them and see little pieces of shiny junk sticking out of the corners of their mouths. You pull it out and it’s a foot long. Yuck.”

“Anything else?” I asked her.

“Those are a few reasons. I could name others.”

She went on unstoppably about finding mysterious pieces of tinsel on the carpet in July (“Where has it been the last six months? I have no idea.”) and about its other horrible tendencies to infest every nook and cranny of our home. She was still ranting about tacky tinsel when I had to hang up.

One year my mom attempted to end this protracted war by buying static-cling-free tinsel. It was oddly translucent strips of plastic that looked and felt nothing like real tinsel. The peace offering actually had the opposite effect. Dad and I hated the “fake tinsel” and demanded a do-over the next year. That spring, Mom found a bird’s nest made out of the stuff. I’m glad something found a decent use for it.

About five years ago, with Jennifer and me out of the house, my mom somehow won a decisive battle. The exact details of the skirmish are lost to history, but one thing is for sure: We haven’t had a tinsel year since.

That is, until now. That’s right. It’s a tinsel year. I asked my dad, just to make sure.

“Matty,” he says, “it’s always a tinsel year. What the hell’s the matter with you? What kind of question is that? Go ask your mother.”

So, to be on the safe side, I also asked Mom.

“No,” she replied, as if I must be joking. “Of course not. It’s never a tinsel year.” 

(This column originally appeared in the December 2007 edition of PineStraw. Matt’s father feels that, if ever there was a tinsel year, 2020 must be it.)

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