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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crazy For Christmas




They will grow up to be the kind of people who attach wreaths to the front of their cars. Or maybe to their foreheads. Or right on top of their heads, like a hat.


"Like my hat?'' they'll ask complete strangers in the grocery store, and the complete strangers will inch away from them, using their shopping carts as a buffer, the way you do with crazy people in grocery stores.


"Christmas makes them crazy,'' I tell their mother.


"How can you tell?'' she asks.


"I see it in their eyes,'' I tell her. "There is Christmas in their eyes.''


Since late summer they have had Christmas in their eyes, collecting toy catalogs and making red and green French toast and decorating the dog and putting tinsel in each other's hair.


Each week, they look at the calendar, wondering whether the holiday is any closer.


"Is it almost Christmas?'' the little girl asked me in late August.


"No,'' I said.


"How much longer?'' she asked.


"About four months,'' I said.


"Yes!'' she said, running off to her room to decorate some more.


They love Christmas. But mostly, they love the prospect of Christmas, the anticipation, the feeling that on Dec. 25 their lives will change and their standard of living will improve and their worlds will never ever be the same.


"Don't expect too much this year,'' their mother always warns them in early December.


And they look at her as if she just told them there is no God.


"OK, Mom,'' they say.


"This year, it will be a very simple Christmas,'' she tells them.


"OK, Mom,'' they say, looking at each other to see whether she is kidding.


And they go to the basement and start pulling out the ornaments, boxes and boxes of ornaments, 15 years' worth of decorations, some made during day care when they were tiny, with pictures of them at age 2 or 3, taken with some day-care Polaroid.


"Look at his hair!'' the little red-haired girl screams every year, holding up the ornament picture of her brother.


"Careful with that,'' her mother says, as if she is handling a Faberg? egg.


It will be the centerpiece of the holiday, their little Christmas tree, first butchered at its birthplace, then shipped a thousand miles to be adopted by some caring kids, kids who appreciate sacrifice.


"Remember the year the tree flew off the car?'' my lovely and patient older daughter asks every year when we buy the tree.


"That was awesome,'' the boy says.


They'll never forget it, the time the Christmas tree flew off the car, how it rolled and bounced across the pavement, 65 bucks worth of Oregon pine, lying in the roadway, missing Oregon.


"Dad, I think you lost the tree,'' the boy said softly at the time.


So we turned around and went back for the tree, which was embarrassed but not seriously hurt, tossed it atop the car again and tied it super tight - 10, maybe 12 knots - the way you tie up a bank hostage.


"That should do it,'' I said.


"That's what you said before, Dad,'' my older daughter said.


"Tie it tight,'' the boy said, leaning out the window.


"Good idea,'' I said.


It's been six years since the Christmas tree flew, and we have not lost one since. Yet every year, they sit and watch out the back window, waiting for the tree to fly.


"Dad, it's still on,'' they say now, surprised every time we go around the corner and the tree doesn't glide away.


And we get home and put it in the stand, the old and bent red and green one that we've had about 10 years.


"Look out,'' I say, as I swing dance the tree into the house.


The kids have heard a lot about swing dancing, but they've never seen it in person. They never imagined it could be this exciting.


"Nice spin, Dad,'' my older daughter says.


"Thanks,'' I gasp, attempting a difficult crossover step.


"This Christmas tree is a good dancer,'' the little girl says to her brother.


"So's Dad,'' the boy says.


I hug the tree and twirl it into the living room where the Christmas tree always goes, then stand back to admire it as it trembles in the corner, naked as a congressman.


"It's a little crooked,'' my wife says.


"So's our congressman,'' I say.


"Huh?'' she says.


"Looks straight to me,'' I say.


"No, I think it's crooked,'' my wife says.


Nice tradition, these trees. First, we chop them down, then we try to stand them back up again. Then our wives huddle around and tell us they're crooked.


"Maybe you could adjust the stand,'' my wife says.


So I belly-flop to the floor and try to adjust the stand, which has these screw clamps that you would think might adjust but really don't.


"How's that?'' I ask.


"Still crooked,'' my older daughter says.


At the Christmas-tree lot, the guy offered us a stand. It was already on the tree, a big stand, with legs that wouldn't wobble.


"Want to get the stand?'' my wife had asked.


"We have a stand,'' I said.


"We have a stand,'' she told the Christmas-tree guy, kind of wincing when she said it.


"Only 10 bucks,'' the Christmas-tree guy said.


"Honey, they're only 10 bucks,'' my wife called out to me.


"We have a stand,'' I said again.


"We have a stand,'' she assured the Christmas-tree guy.


And now I'm down adjusting the stand, cranking on one screw, then the other, accomplishing nothing in just a short time.


"How's that?'' I ask.


"Still crooked,'' my older daughter says.


So I adjust some more, grunting the way dads do when they put up a Christmas tree - a double grunt here and a triple grunt there. The bigger the tree, the more the grunts. This is probably a four-grunt tree. Pretty nice. With the discount, about 50 bucks.


"You all right, Dad?'' the boy says, crawling under the tree with me.


"I could use a pillow,'' I say.


"OK, I'll get you a pillow,'' he says, shimmying back out again.


"You all right?'' my wife asks, which always makes a husband a little upset, to be asked whether he's all right, just because he's grunting and sweating and muttering under his breath.


"I'm fine,'' I mutter.


"Are you going to be under there awhile?'' my wife asks.


"Just through the holidays,'' I say.


As I study the tree stand, the little girl begins to wrap garland around my ankles and mistletoe around my toes. In a short time, my legs and feet are fully decorated.


"Hey, Dad!'' the little girl hollers.


"Hey, what?'' I ask.


"It's finally Christmas!'' the little girl yells.


"Yeah, it's finally Christmas,'' I say.


Merry Christmas.


Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.