This year, my lovely wife and I moved to a beautiful new house. In contrast with our “city-sized” (read, small) condo, we have a lot more space: enough space to set up a full-sized Christmas tree. We had some reservations about this. We’ve had the cats for five years now but we’ve never had cats and a Christmas tree at the same time.

Real Christmas trees are not good for pets. The needles are mildly toxic and the water is a potential biohazard due to bacteria. They’re also a pain to dispose of: the town or city wants to collect them on a specific weekend and I may not want to take it down quite yet. Last year, in Cambridge, tree collection happened before the twelve days of Christmas were even over! Don’t they remember that song? So for reasons of pet safety and convenience, primarily the former, we bought a new artificial tree.

Now, Merlin and Morgana are indoor cats. That’s another safety choice: indoor cats live a lot longer in my experience. But indoor cats are deranged — even more deranged than regular domestic indoor/outdoor cats. Our cats have a bit of an obsession with green things. Specifically, eating them. I buy them pet grass but their herbivorous impulses are not constrained by human taxonomy. If it’s green, they want to eat it. It’s that simple. Five years ago, at Merlin and Morgana’s first Christmas, we had another artificial tree and before we even had it out of the box, they were climbing all over the box of branches and nibbling at the plastic needles. At that time, we decided to skip the Christmas tree that year till our kittens had grown up a bit more, but then we moved to a smaller place where the tree didn’t fit anyway (we sold it in a moving sale). We never did buy an apartment-sized tree, so this year, in the new house, this was the cats’ next Christmas tree.

We decided to set up the tree without ornaments for starters, to give them a couple of days to get used to having it in the house before we covered with with dangly, shiny, irresistible cat toys. We were expecting trouble. Merlin and Morgana didn’t disappoint.

Cats investigating the Christmas tree box

Merlin and Morgana check out the exciting new box.


Within seconds after I opened the box, I had two cats in my way, trying to chomp on the fake pine needles. This in spite of having a fresh bundle of pet grass sitting in the next room. Did I mention that indoor cats are deranged?

Two cats sniffing the artificial Christmas tree while it's still inside the box

This is pretty much the reaction we expected.

Now, this tree is one of the newfangled (and pricier) ones that are pretty much instant to set up. It comes in three sections, each of which opens like an umbrella. Good thing, too, because setting up the tree was a more, ah, interactive process than before we had cats.

Stage 1: Morgana is inquisitive and a little cautious

Stage 1: Morgana is inquisitive and a little cautious


Merlin taste-testing the tree

Stage 1: Merlin is inquisitive and less cautious: “Light PVC flavor, with a mild bouquet of bubble wrap and a springy, Astroturf-like texture”


Merlin and the lit tree

At least the cats didn’t try to chomp the light bulbs.

After we got it set up, the cats got used to it pretty quickly. Surprisingly to me, they didn’t try to climb it. Perhaps, as indoor cats, they didn’t quite realize trees are good for climbing. I don’t really care about their reasons. I’m just happy they didn’t knock the tree over.

Merlin under the tree

Merlin shows his approval of the tree in a surprisingly acceptable manner.

The cats did keep nibbling at the fake needles, which can’t be good for either the cats or the tree. We ended up having to put some deterrent spray on it. (Be careful which spray you choose: there’s a product on the market called Bitter Yuck, which contains rosemary oil, and rosemary oil is toxic to cats. I’d suggest you call your veterinarian to ask for a recommendation of what product to use.)

Shopping for Cat-Safe Ornaments

Now that we had some indications the cats weren’t going to slay themselves with the tree itself, we started to talk about ornaments. All our existing Christmas ornaments were things we’d bought in the pre-cat stage of our lives. Since our cats hadn’t figured out the tree was climbable (and we had positioned it far from the stairs or furniture to discourage them taking flying leaps into its upper branches), we figured glass ornaments were OK for the upper half of the tree but we needed something a lot more — what’s the word? — indestructible for the lower half. My thinking was that a liberal distribution of shatterproof “decoy” ornaments would keep the cats occupied and draw their (self) destructive impulses away from the glass ornaments.

So we headed to an area department store for new ornaments. It’s been five years since we visited the Christmas-decoration section of the store. Have you been shopping for Christmas decorations lately? I think the Christmas-decoration designers have started taking LSD at the office.

This is a Virgin Mary snow globe that looks like she's wearing an astronaut helmet. And it plays music! We didn't buy it.

This is a Virgin Mary snow globe that looks like she’s wearing an astronaut helmet. And it plays music! We didn’t buy it.

I’ve always thought that Christmas ornaments started as symbolic fruit. I understand that we’ve moved beyond that by now, but the none the less I was unprepared for the diversity and surrealness of some of the ornaments at the store.

The three-eyed Christmas alien, and the patriotic Christmas ... llama? Maybe it's supposed to be a donkey, but a political party's symbol seems hardly more appropriate. I didn't find a Christmas patriotic elephant. But that's not so say I want one. We didn't buy either of these.

The three-eyed Christmas alien, and the patriotic Christmas … llama? Maybe it’s supposed to be a donkey, but a political party’s symbol seems hardly more appropriate. I didn’t find a Christmas patriotic elephant. But that’s not so say I want one. We didn’t buy either of these.

We also found a Justin Bieber Christmas ornament. I kid you not. Mrs. Gronosky posed with it for a picture, but I can’t bring myself to post it. Here are some more surreal ornaments instead:

More surreal ornaments. I am reassured that the rack was full of these: it means maybe nobody had bought any.

The pink Christmas hippo, and a duck with a shotgun. I just don’t understand. If you look closely you can see the tag of a Justin Bieber ornament on the rack below these. We didn’t buy any of these.

We did eventually find some plain, plastic ball ornaments like a normal person would put on his or her Christmas tree. It took some searching: most of the ornaments were glass. I did have to pick up one thing that was a little more unconventional. My sweetie liked it:

We bought the Christmas owl

We bought the Christmas owl

Decorating the Tree

When we got home and put the ornaments on tree, the initial reaction was subdued:

Morgana watches, with her usual composure and restraint, while Mrs. Gronosky covers the tree in shiny, dangly objects indistinguishable from cat toys.

Morgana watches, with her usual composure and restraint, while Mrs. Gronosky covers the tree in shiny, dangly objects indistinguishable from cat toys.

But it didn’t last.

Morgana's self-control lasted about three minutes.

Morgana’s self-control lasted about three minutes.

The second night, none of the ornaments came off the tree. Maybe the glass ones would have been all right after all. I wouldn’t put money on that, though. After all our precautions — positioning the tree so to not invite climbing, liberally spritzing it with anti-chewing spray, and letting it stand overnight before decorating it — cats will be cats.

On nom nom!

Morgana vigorously chomping the artificial Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas!