Musings on Life, Love and Lefovers

Tilting the Tree (and other slanted celebrations)

Christmas season starts at my house when the tip of our just-cut pine tree points to the corner of our living room ceiling. Every year, my three sons and I would stand in amazement as their father once again put up our Christmas tree at an angle. We’re not sure how Nick manages this feat, because the tree always stands perfectly straight when they drill it at the Christmas tree lot. Somehow, during the 10-minute drive to our house, the tree transforms into a diagonal demon.

We fought this laid-back appearance. None of us went along willingly, wanting to accept a leaning tree. Year after year, we denied reality, until finally Seth stated the obvious: “no matter what tree we picked, it leans, a lot like that tower in Italy.”


In Decembers past we’d meet the tilted-tree challenge with renewed vigor, each of us committed to making the tree stand straight. We wanted it pointing skyward, gracefully framed by our picture window — reminiscent of that tower in Paris. The five of us circled the tree, each with our own viewpoint. And not until we each declared that the tree was standing erect would Nick give the go-ahead to the tree lot attendant to drill. Each year this collection of pine needles, branches and sap outsmarted us.

Finally we conceded defeat. “So what if the tree is a bit off center,” Shawn said. “It’s not the tree’s fault. Maybe the living room floor is uneven,” Jake added, handing me a pile of holiday books. “Let’s just prop it up.” The good news is the tree stands straighter, but bad news is that can’t read Polar Express or Olive the Other Reindeer until after January 1.

Tree-tilting isn’t the only Fadden-specific tradition that manages to amaze, confound and delight our holidays. My top five include:

  1. sending Christmas cards to people who don’t send ones to us;
  2. receiving cards from everyone I didn’t send a greeting to;
  3. being one egg short for that last batch of sugar cookies;
  4. a size 10 shoe stepping on my most treasured and breakable ornament
  5. and the never-untangling string of lights.I dread the thought that Nick might put the tree up straight one year. Then I’d be forced to search for a new family favorite — perhaps burning the sugar cookies or hanging advent calendars that don’t have chocolate in them.But it’s the traditions my family embraces without realizing it that mean the most ­– the ones that burrow their way in without any masterminding. Tree-tilting is an annual event we hadn’t planned on, but now it’s as much a part of our holidays as leaving cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer.           

This holiday season as you gather your family to celebrate your traditions, be on the lookout for those hidden moments — the ones that aren’t planned or arranged. Those are the ones supplying the most giggles, hugs and happiness, the stuff of happy childhoods.  

When you hang mistletoe, pour another cup of egg-nog or put the star on the treetop, remember that somewhere in southern California, the annual “tilting of the Christmas tree” is taking place. Maybe this year I’ll use a few back issues of Writer’s Digest to help straighten things out.





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One thought on “Tilting the Tree (and other slanted celebrations)

  1. I absolutely love this! I guess for our family its our old, mis-matched stockings. Each year I think maybe it’s time for a new set, but ours were all made for us at different times by different people. My husband has used his since childhood. They’re great representations of our family, all different in our own ways, but all very cherished.


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