69: The Sweet Smell of Christmas

69: The Sweet Smell of Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

The Sweet Smell of Christmas

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.

~W.T. Ellis

“This is going to be a perfect Christmas,” I said to myself. Family and friends had been invited to share the first Christmas in our new home. It was a hectic but controlled chaos as I decorated, cooked, and left Post-it notes to myself all over the house. You see, I can be sort of semi-organized at times, and this task deserved my best effort. Nothing could go wrong.

My fantasy of the perfect Christmas included a huge fresh Christmas tree, decorated in splendor to make our new home look warm, cozy, and inviting. We found the perfect tree that would almost reach the high ceiling of the living room, and were excited to discover a new product that was “guaranteed to keep the tree fresh and green throughout the entire holiday season.” All we had to do was add it to the water in the tree stand. What could be easier?

The tree was just as awesome as I had dreamed it would be as we added the final touch — our Christmas angel. Sparkle Plenty, the pitiful plastic dime store angel, resembled an ancient Barbie on drugs, but she had graced the uppermost branches of the family tree since my husband was a small child, and was given to us by his mother for our first tree as newlyweds. It has been perched on top of every tree since that first year forty-six years ago. Anyone who saw this sad angel specimen and wasn’t aware of her history would probably wonder why we hadn’t replaced her, but we’ve had her longer than our children, so she deserved her rightful place on top of our tree.

Blue lights were hung from the eaves outside, wreaths decorated the doors, and candles glowed in each window. It was beginning to look very festive, warm and inviting. Greenery was everywhere and candles were placed strategically throughout the house and on the mantel in preparation for our family Christmas Eve dinner. Almost ready to show off our new home, we added one more finishing touch as we filled the fireplace with wood and hung the stockings from the mantel. It was a beautiful sight, reminding me of Norman Rockwell paintings I had seen as a child. I could hardly wait for the family to see it all!

As the famous biblical saying goes, “Pride goeth before the fall.”

Two days before the “great event,” we began to notice an odd, rather unpleasant odor in the house that we were unable to track down. Searching everywhere, and unable to discover the source, we resorted to room deodorizers which only added a sickeningly sweet smell to the already disgusting scent.

By the time Christmas Eve came, the smell was pungent and growing worse with each passing hour. It actually smelled like vomit, and was the very worst in the living room where the family gathered around the Christmas tree. I had prayed the aroma of homemade bread and turkey would overwhelm the still unidentified stench that was taking over our new home, but that didn’t happen. “Something must have died in the wall or attic,” I moaned.

The Christmas Eve extravaganza ended early and we were sure everyone was glad to leave our beautiful, festively decorated home to breathe the fresh December air.

Christmas morning we opened our immediate family gifts and the aroma was even worse! As a nurse, I have smelled some pretty disgusting things, but this smell topped gangrene, old blood, and burned flesh. How could we continue to live here if this continued?

As the last package was removed from under the tree, I noticed the trunk of the tree had greenish-black, mossy-looking algae all over it, reminding me of The Blob, a movie I had seen as a child. I imagined the poor tree pulsating with the disgusting stuff, as it tried to rid itself of the powerful evil force! Eureka! It was the Christmas tree that was creating the hideous stench, and it had to be the caused by the “amazing new additive guaranteed to keep your tree fresh.”

We couldn’t get that tree out of our new home quickly enough! We even considered not taking the decorations off and simply dragging the entire tree to the street just the way it was, minus Sparkle Plenty of course. But my frugalness got the best of me and I did remove the trimmings, taking several fresh-air breaks along the way. By Christmas afternoon the tree was ready for pick-up by the garbage man, who probably turned every shade of green when loading it in his truck.

Artificial trees have decorated our home every year since that disaster, still topped by old Sparkle Plenty of course. Sometimes people will say, “Oh, but you miss out on that wonderful smell of a fresh tree.” I just smile and say, “Exactly. We had a live tree once, and that is one smell I can do without, thank you!”

It has taken me twenty-five years to see the humor in this situation, but one thing is certain. Our family will always remember that Merry (cough, gag) Christmas in our new home with the beautiful live tree from hell!

~Liz Every Cook

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