‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; the mice were all napping and watching TV, stuffed on the snacks that the cat left for free.
The cat had been busy, but not with his job. Work was beneath him; he turned quite the snob. His focus was keen on the tree tall and bright, his mission: to the summit, by day or by night.
This has been the cat Christmas story in my house forever. I don’t remember a Christmas without a cat. Which means I don’t remember a Christmas without a near catastrophe, no pun intended.
My earliest cat Christmas story that I remember was when I was in 1st grade. Our tree was one of those silver aluminum masterpieces of engineering. Each perfectly straight branch was kept in its own brown paper tube until assembly to maintain the precise curl of each and every tinsel strand. The red glass ball ornaments were dusted and hung with meticulous attention to spacing. The angel at the top of the tree had her spun glass wings fluffed and shaped. Below the tree the hand-made skirt swaddled the base; the entire vision was lit by a revolving color wheel. It was spectacular, until we left my dad at home, alone, with the cat on his lap, a beer in his hand and football on the television.
What we came home to can only be described as tragic. We opened the door to bits of red glass in the entryway and a weird red/blue/green light coming from the hallway. The television was just a snowy screen of quiet static. My dad was asleep in the recliner, snoring. The cat, Calico, was perched atop the once pristine landscape that had been my mom’s pride and joy. Red glass balls were everywhere, some shattered, some not. The angel was stuck in a lampshade, and the color wheel light was across the room aimed at the ceiling. There was not a single branch on the tree that had not been bent, chewed, or otherwise mutilated. It was, as I said, tragic.
Sometimes we were present to witness the carnage. I have vivid memories of the world shifting into slow motion as the cat leapt from the mantle to the top of the tree- all of us doing that desperate “Nooooooo” as Smokey rode that sucker to the ground.
I learned very early in life to never put the breakable ornaments near the bottom of the tree. To this day I catch myself shaking my head at other people’s trees when I see family heirlooms in range of a hit and run. But sometimes it wasn’t what the cat knocked off the tree, but what they added. Take Thumper. Thumper was a unique cat. She believed that we were her children/kittens. When she realized she would never be able to pick us up by our scruffs and carry us about she took to carrying other things, like our socks or underwear. When your cat carries your underwear up the Christmas tree-well, let’s just say that makes for a pretty special holiday sight for family and guests.
Then there were the years with kittens. Kittens and Christmas trees are a special kind of chaos. Many of the pre-lit trees have incredibly bright white lights, which backlight furry ninja kittens ever so well as you are trying to wrestle them from their mountain lair. Kittens in the tree often turns into a terrifying game we call “Scare the BaJeezus Out of Mom.” Nothing screams Christmas joy like having your own tree seemingly reach out and grab you as you walk by.
For the past several years I have been matching wits with my big boy, Tank. Tank has a history that includes locking kittens in cabinets, turning on and carrying around flashlights, pushing younger cats out of windows, and kidnapping baby bunnies and bringing them home, perfectly healthy, promising to love it and hug it and squeeze it, and possibly call it George. 2017 will forever be known as the Christmas that Tank figured out how to turn on the Christmas tree lights.
At first, I thought I had left the tree lights on all day, even though I didn’t remember even turning them on at all. Then I wondered if I had a very jolly burglar, whose only apparent crime was wanting my house to look inviting after dark. It wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th time I came home to a festive dining room window scene that I figured it out; my tree lights are connected to a foot switch. Tank has feet. Et voila, one lit tree. Actually, he had been doing more than just turning on the tree. He was pretty much redecorating the dining room. The tree skirt was now a cat bed behind the chair, the candy canes were being used as air fresheners in the dog crates, the Christmas cards that once were displayed on the piano were now stuffed in my boots, and the presents had been turned into a game of “GUESS WHO GETS IT” with the name tags having gone God knows where.
In my cat Christmas stories, I have had the nativity scene razed by a giant stomping feline, with the baby Jesus being batted under the refrigerator. I have had tinsel coming out of both ends of a cat. I have had Santa arrive only to find the milk was gone and the cookies had been licked. Stockings that were hung with care soon were dragged behind a chair. There was no miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer, but there were baby kittens dragging ribbon ‘round here. Oh Manny, Oh Tiggy, Oh Monkey, and Po, Oh Ziva, you diva, please let the mouse go!
Each year on Christmas Eve I take a moment and turn off all the lights, save the tree. I sit for a moment, reflecting on all the amazing things for which I am especially grateful in the year that is quickly coming to an end, then a quick prayer that the New Year be bright. With a “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” I climb into bed and settle for sleep, and wonder what next year’s story will be.
How to have a sensible cat Christmas:
- Set the tree up, but don’t decorate for several days. Let the cat get used to having it in the house.
- Don’t set yourself up for failure. Stay away from draping tinsel and fragile ornaments until you are certain of how your cat will behave with the tree.
- Be cautious with lights! Cats love to chew wires, so make sure your tree is unplugged at the outlet when you leave the house or before bed.
- Anchor the tree! If you have kittens or climbers, a weighted base is a good idea.
- Give your cat an alternative. Set out new scratchers with catnip and new toys to keep them entertained BEFORE the big day. Otherwise, everything under the tree is fair game!