A Tree Tale

The Griswold family cuts down their Christmas tree.

“She’ll see it later, honey. Her eyes are frozen.”

It’s that time of year again.

The time of year when Trent starts brimming over with Christmas spirit, and I start loudly quoting Clark Griswold at the end of Christmas Vacation (see here). Or better yet — I start quoting Uncle Lewis.

The first clash of these ideologies traditionally occurs at Thanksgiving, and, indeed — it came like clockwork this year.

Now, to be fair, I wasn’t always an Act 3-Clark, if you get my drift. Once upon a time I was an Act-1 Clark, positively oozing tinsel from my eyeballs and the first to jump in with a perfect fifth harmony on any rendition of Deck the Halls…

My dad, you see… He was the ORIGINAL Clark Griswold. And I was Rusty, out in the snow by his side at 11:00 PM, testing all 10,000 imported Italian twinkle lights so we could have the big reveal he dreamed of.

Saroots and I, back in the days when we wore matching Christmas morning attire for Clark -- I mean, Dad.

Saroots and I, back in the days when we wore matching Christmas morning attire for Clark — I mean, Dad.

When he died in 1993, for many years I carried on all his traditions for my family because I thought… Well, I don’t really know what I thought. I guess I thought Christmas would just make everyone sad if we didn’t have 10,000 imported Italian twinkle lights and a heavenly tree and mountains of presents.

Then one year, I moved away. That Christmas, the mother I had been so desperate to preserve all this ritual for announced that she was electing not to get a tree. We were meeting up at my grandparents’ in Florida for the holidays and pretty much skipping all Christmas celebrations, but she would pay for deep sea fishing if I wanted to come.

I was FREE (also, I caught a lot of red snapper).

Since then, Christmas with my family has been a delightful mix of partying late with old friends on Christmas Eve, sleeping in the next morning, staying in our pajamas all day, watching our favorite movies, and eating whatever we want on the couch.

We always include a screening of Christmas Vacation, of course, so everyone can poke a little fun at our old stressed-out selves (well, poke fun at me and Dad, mostly) while simultaneously asking shouldn’t we maybe consider getting a tree again next year?

I love this way of celebrating. It’s made me realize that Christmas isn’t how you celebrate, but who you celebrate with. Christmas can be pizza in your pajamas (well, okay — not for me). It can be cheap beer in a dive bar with friends and strangers alike.

Me and Becki at Palmer’s in Seattle, Christmas Eve 2007.

HOWEVER… I married a man who disagrees with me.

The chipper treehunter…

In fact, one might say…

I married a man who, in certain respects, resembles Clark Griswold. Or better yet — my father?

(I don’t know how to make that little eyebrow-raised emoticon, but this would be the place to insert it)

Yes, it’s true. Trent is a Griswold dream spawn. And dammit — he constantly awakens a yearning in me for a Fun Old Fashioned Griswold Family Christmas. A Fun Old Fashioned Wisniewski Family Christmas. The kind of Christmas I stopped having a long time ago.


Trent doesn’t like to drink beer in dive bars on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t like to celebrate in his pajamas all day. He doesn’t like to skip trees and decorations and run off to tropical places to fish away the holidays.


And he makes me want to do them, too.

I must… like… him… a lot.

And so, Thanksgiving has come and gone now. We journeyed up to CA Mom and Dad’s at Lake Almanor, beside Mount Lassen for a bonanza of holiday spirit. We cooked and ate delicious holiday meals and hung out by the fire, watching football. We went to the Christmas walk in downtown Chester and warmed ourselves by the huge bonfire, where my “Grinchiness” (as Trent calls it) almost completely melted away.

CA Mom’s Thanksgiving table. Hard to not feel some holiday cheer…

And on Saturday, we journeyed into Lassen National Forest to find our perfect tree for our first Christmas at 3675.

There were some pain points, as Trent joyfully traipsed off into the snow in search of his dream tree and I just struggled not to get peed on by Sammy, who was freaking out at the smell of forest rodents everywhere (EVERYWHERE!!!).

We got stuck in the snow — twice — and the Grinch in me briefly contemplated suggesting we abandon Mission: Perfect Tree in favor of a beach and a boutique hotel for the holidays.

But just before sundown, we found it:


Indeed: the perfect tree for our first Fun Old Fashioned Temple Family Christmas.

And once I saw it, there was no turning back. I was an Act-1 Clark all over again.

I guess there’s a happy medium; I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t want to become enraptured with tradition to the point that I’m out testing twinkle lights at 11:00 PM, but I think now that I have my own Clark, and this beautiful house… It’ll be a while before I’m fishing on Christmas again…

But regardless of how you celebrate, it is who you celebrate with, too. And I’m excited about both the how and the who in my life, this Christmas, and going forward.

Holiday centerpiece perfection.

CA Parents snuggling Sam on the Christmas walk.

Roaring bonfire in downtown Chester.

Sam hates sweaters. Michigan loses to Ohio State. Boooo. 😦

Takin’ her home.

See all our pics of Thanksgiving at Lake Almanor here.

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13 thoughts on “A Tree Tale

  1. Margaret Wisniewski says:

    This is truly a “holiday tale” and a great rendering on the history of Christmas in the Wisniewski family. Thank you for bringing back so many good memories of past holidays. I think that Lisa has come full circle when it comes to holiday celebrations. That fun-filled family Christmas may have re-surfaced in the Temple household, thanks to your own Clark Griswold. Yes, Trent is a traditionalist when it comes to holidays (I can tell by the plaid shirts). But it might be kind of nice to throw it all together and enjoy what happens. You can still deck your beautiful new halls and go out and have a beer in a dive bar on Christmas Eve. And your family will always be ready to hang out in their jammies with you on Christmas morning, watching the story of “Malcolm X”. (Sarah and Becki still remember our “Civil Rights Christmas”!) Oh, and let’s not forget the year we wrote our own version of the sappy “Christmas Newsletter”, with which we shocked all our friends (but mostly made them laugh). Ah, I love that I have a family that can take Christmas and turn it into something individual, creative and meaningful for all parties concerned. Isn’t that what it is about? Christmas should mean something to you. And, if that meaning includes family and friends, than I think you have chosen well. By the way, I am really relieved that you are not attempting to put up 10,000 imported Italian twinkle lights (oh God, the frustration). Or maybe you are saving that for next year? Love, Mom

  2. Sarah Wisniewski says:

    “When Santa shoves his fat, white ass down that chimney at midnight he’s going to find the jolliest bunch bastards this side of the nut house!”

  3. Carla Daniels says:

    I am surprised to see Sam in not one..but TWO sweaters. Poor guy.

  4. Viola Pastuszyn says:

    Oh, good, Trent’s beard is back. ALL IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD.

  5. Joyce Ruschhaupt says:

    Great photos from past and present. Thank you both of coming up to the Lake to celebrate too much food and too much football with us. Looking forward to Christmas in 26 days!!! Our tree is up and the great room is decorated; the 10,000 twinkle lights are hanging from the veranda with garland and red bows… Bryce & Trenton are both real Christmas lovers! Thank you both for all your efforts — we will all enjoy!
    CA Mom….

    • lisatemp says:

      Our tree is half up — we’re finishing it tonight and then will send photos! And all the lights, too! Can’t wait to come back for Christmas…

      • Denise says:

        SO glad to hear Trent is a Christmas lover and Lisa has come back around to loving it again!
        Can’t wait to see the pictures of you first tree in your new home. Enjoy!

  6. […] our Christmas tree. Last year, we cut our tree down on Mt. Lassen over Thanksgiving weekend. This year, we weren’t at Mt. […]

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