O,Christmas Tree!

The Story of the 1on1 Mandarin Christmas Tree

(author-Chad, 1on1 Mandarin student)

One of my favorite radio personalities in the U.S. is Paul Harvey. He’s a great storyteller and entertains listeners with little known facts about celebrities, politicians, sports stars, etc. One of his favorite expressions is, “Now, here’s the rest of the story…” I was thinking of this recently when looking at the Christmas tree in the 1on1 Mandarin lobby.

It may look like a perfectly nice, beautiful Christmas tree (held up by a piece of rope, but that’s another matter). But let me tell you the rest of the story…”

Last year was our family’s first Christmas in China. We didn’t know what would be available in the way of Christmas trees and decorations. Thankfully, we were surprised at the numerous options at nearby stores. Many of the stores in WuDaoKou really get into Christmas. The Lotus Center employees even wear Santa hats this time of year.

With limited space in our apartment, we thought we would buy a quaint little 3-4 foot tree to put in our living room. After surveying the options at Lotus, we decided to buy (what we thought was) a tree of that description. Imagine our surprise when we arrived home and unpacked our new tree – only to discover it filled almost every inch of our eight foot tall ceilings!

It reminded me of a scene from the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark and his family trudge into the wilderness to find the perfect Christmas tree. Clark is elated when he finds a massive cedar. His son (Russ), however, is the realist. “Dad, that tree wouldn’t fit in our front yard.” Undaunted, Clark responds, “It’s not going in our yard, Russ. It’s going in our living room!” That’s how we felt. Almost every guest in our home last Christmas commented on how tall our tree was, but we gradually grew to like it. You could even say the tree became a source of family pride.

After Christmas was over, we packed our beloved tree and other holiday decorations away (isn’t that a sad moment?) until the next year.

Our tree was out of sight and out of mind in our storage room until one day last spring. My wife came in and said that ants were invading our Christmas tree. I thought this strange, since our tree was artificial and didn’t have any food on it, but for some reason the ants in our apartment thought it looked like a nice home. I put the tree outside our door, away from our kitchen and food.

Now, I intended to give it a few days, then carefully open the box to see if the ants were still in there. But you know how things go. A week turns into a month, a month into half a year…pretty soon, it was November and the box with our tree was still outside the door. Frankly, I’m surprised our ayi, neighbors or building cleaning ladies didn’t throw it away a long time ago.

I was somewhat nervous the day after Thanksgiving this year when it was time to take the tree out the box. Would I find a massive ant colony? Would the tree be eaten into small pieces? Bracing myself, I slowly opened the box. Fortunately, I was pleased to find no trace of ants and the tree still in perfectly good shape…or so I thought.

We unpacked the tree, pieced it together and fixed the branches. Our family tree. Ah, but there was a bit of lean to it. The top third of the tree had a definite angle to it. At first, I told myself it was fine, that the lean just added character. After a few days, however, I couldn’t stand it any longer. The lean had to be fixed. I figured it was because it had been stuffed in a box for almost a year and I could pry it back into shape.

Pry I did. Unfortunately, I pried a little too hard and the top third of tree snapped like a twig. Oops. I felt pretty bad about it, especially since our three-year-old daughter loves Christmas trees and would be quite upset if she woke up in the morning to find that our tree was broken.

Our solution was to use a hot glue gun to meld the tree back together. It could no longer be put in storage, but we could use it for this year at least. Amazingly, the plan worked. We glued the tree back together. Actually, the lean was better, too, but after testing the tree’s sturdiness (or lack thereof), we decided it might not be a good idea to have it in our living room with a preschooler who loves to touch tree ornaments.

The decision was made to buy a new tree that closely resembled our old one. A trip (actually two…that’s another story) to JinWuXing took care of that, but we still had to decide how to dispose of our old tree. We thought about offering it to our neighbors. We thought about standing it up in our hallway as kind of a tree for everyone on our floor, or putting it by the garbage can for some lucky person to find. None of the solutions were satisfactory. Then we had it…how about we donate it to 1on1 Mandarin?!

There probably wouldn’t be any small children running around, so sturdiness shouldn’t be a problem. It was still a serviceable tree (for this year). It would be a shame for it to go to waste. After calling Joel at 1on1, he agreed to take the tree.

I’ve enjoyed the sight of our old tree in the 1on1 Mandarin lobby. Unfortunately for the tree, however, its troubles have not ended. Last week during an English club meeting at 1on1, the tree took an untimely fall. The lean returned. But it ultimately survived and is still standing. It needs a piece of rope tied to 1on1’s projector screen to do so, but it’s still standing.

So that’s the history of the beleaguered 1on1 Mandarin Christmas tree. Other trees will come and go, but it’s doubtful they will provide as many memories as this one. I know I’ll never sing “O Tannenbaum” again without thinking of our first Chinese Christmas tree. It was infested with ants, bent into an unshapely form, broken in two and smushed in the ground. But it persevered and still stands proud (with a little assistance) today. Charlie Brown’s tree has nothing on this baby.

And, that, is the rest of the story. Merry Christmas.