Christmas is the time of year for the gathering of family, the sharing of gifts, and watching as five pounds is added to your waistline due to all of the delectable treats of cookies and sumptuous food. I have many wonderful memories of sharing Christmas with my loved ones, and watching their faces light up in delight from that special gift I picked out just for them. Yet, the memories that I treasure the most involve my childhood experiences with my pets during Christmas time. When I was growing up we had eight cats and a large German Shepard named Luke, and I speak from experience when I say that having pets during the Christmas season presents its own unique challenges. To pets, especially to cats, Christmas time is a wonderland of new experiences that provides shiny tinsel to be chewed, trees to hide and climb in, wrapping paper and bows to be played in, and dangling ornaments that invitingly beckon to the wandering paw and wet nose; however, it is the Christmas tree that offers the most fascination and is often the source of all the trouble caused by pets.
My earliest memories are from when I was six years old and we had gotten Luke as a puppy; it was his first Christmas. Luke was moderately interested in the tree as Mom decorated it, but he pretty much stayed out of the way, and after hours of meticulous work the tree was a vision of pure Christmas beauty. After we had all gone to bed, we were suddenly awoken by a tremendous crash from the living room. Mom flew out of bed expecting to find someone breaking into the house, but instead found the Christmas tree lying in a heap on the floor; ornaments were scattered and broken everywhere and the lights were a tangled mess, and poor Luke was huddled in the corner with tremors of fear shaking his body. He was clearly the cause of the tree falling over. It appeared that Luke had gotten overzealous in his sniffing explorations and had nosed the tree past its tipping point causing it to fall over. He looked sorrowfully at Mom as she stood over him shaking her head. Fortunately, the tree had had a soft landing so the branches were in good shape and we still had enough ornaments left after the crash. Mom knew that tree was at risk for another fall because Luke was a puppy after all, so in stroke of genius she put the Christmas tree in my little Red Flyer wagon and redecorated it to its former glory. For the rest of the season, Mom wheeled the wagon and tree into my room and closed the door whenever there was a chance that Luke would be left alone with the tree for an extended period of time. It was quite a spectacle to witness the Christmas tree procession each day with Luke chasing after it trying to bite off the ornaments as Mom wheeled it up and down the hallway. The wagon worked because the tree remained vertical for the rest of the season.
The next Christmas Luke was a full grown dog and Mom, not wanting to tempt another tipped over tree, opted to place it on a table where it would be well out of his reach; however what Mom wasn’t counting on was our new cat Colby. Colby was a gorgeous gray cat who was bursting with energy and, like any normal cat, had to explore every nook and cranny in the house. Much like the year before Mom spent hours decorating the tree and it was perhaps the prettiest tree that we ever had. I have an image in my mind of Mom standing there smiling, basking in the glow of the beautiful tree, while behind her sat Colby with the glowing Christmas lights reflecting back from his saucer shaped eyes as he stared at the biggest cat toy he had ever seen. Once again, after retiring for the night, we were woken by a thunderous crash that rattled the windows. Mom leaped out of the bed in a flash and with Luke running at her side as if to say, “See Mom, it wasn’t me!” found the Christmas tree lying on the floor in utter ruin after it had fallen four feet from the table. Branches were strewn everywhere, and glass twinkled from the many broken ornaments, and there was Colby reclining on the couch, the picture of pure innocence, but Mom knew he was the culprit because he was covered in tinsel and pine needles from his climbing excursion. In a repeat of the year before, Mom once again resurrected the tree, and redecorated it with what little ornaments we had left to a bit of its former pre-Colby glory. Mom then, in another stroke of genius, blocked off the tree on the table with a green plastic fence in the hopes that it would deter him from trying to climb to great heights once again, and that is how our family tradition of placing the tree on a table and fencing it off our pets was born. As I child I learned to appreciate the Christmas tree from a distance and the fence certainly didn’t prohibit Santa from leaving me an ample supply of gifts to open on Christmas morning.
For the rest of my childhood we did not have any major “pet”castrophes involving fallen Christmas trees, but we continued to deal with other pet caused calamities. Over the years we continued to extract a yowling, sap covered cat from the higher branches of the tree because they had gotten stuck and couldn’t figure out how to get back down. We always had to redecorate the tree after they removed the ornaments that weren’t to their taste, and we continued to have to pick out the occasional cat and dog toys they added to the lower branches. We would constantly have to chase Luke out from under the tree as he tried to drink the tree water, and the cats loved to wrap themselves up in the tree skirt. Each year we routinely played hide and seek with the ornaments that they stole from the tree, and the cats showed no mercy when it came to our nativity set. There were always wise men and sheep missing, but never the baby Jesus fittingly enough, which we wouldn’t find until June of the following year. And of course when it came to wrapping Christmas presents we always had to contend with claws and teeth. It took hours to wrap and it wasn’t because of the sheer number of presents, but because we spent so much time chasing the dog as he stole a roll of paper, unraveling cats from the ribbons they had gotten tangled in, and rescuing the errant cat who happened to get a piece scotch tape stuck on their paws as they walked through the whole mess. I can’t count how many times my hand were attacked by a stalking feline playing hide and seek amongst the paper rolls and gifts. We think of it has work, but to pets the wrapping of Christmas presents is their next favorite thing after destroying the tree. It has been my experience that you can always tell the gifts that are from people who have pets; the cat or dog fur in the tape is a telltale sign, and the wrapping paper usually has a couple of claw and teeth marks added for good measure because of course the little darlings want to add their own touch to the season of gift giving.
These childhood memories always make me smile, and I have learned that having pets during Christmas definitely makes it more challenging, but also more memorable and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As an adult I now have my own two felines Padauan and L.B., who thankfully do not cause near as much Christmas trouble as the pets I had growing up did. They both like to lie under the tree pretending to be Christmas presents and only occasionally bat down an ornament. Even though I have not had any recent Christmas “cat”astrophes, I still have not let my guard down. I can see the gleam in L.B. and Paduan’s eyes as they stare into the Christmas lights, and I know a part of them may be plotting the greatest Christmas debacle yet.