"Every year," Phil says to the camera, "we have a Dunphy Christmas tradition where a tree is first chosen, then given a make-over, then put up to dazzle, as the Cullens would say, in our living room. Over the years, it's sorta been my lone wolf duty," (This would be your obligatory Jacob Black reference) "-as man of the house. But now that Luke's getting older, and becoming more and more by the day the go-to for manly decisions should some horrible accident ever pry me from life's grips, I figured: why not share that tradition?"


Phil and Luke are dragging a Christmas tree up the driveway. Very clearly having trouble. Luke's untied shoes aren't helping, as they trip and struggle to go the twenty feet from their parked car to the front door.

"Thatta boy," Phil encourages on a groan, expelling a more quiet, "This is a death march."

Luke croaks out, "I swallowed pine needles."

"That's okay! So did I. Like eight of them."

"They're stabbing my stomach," Luke whines. He's carrying the top half of the tree. "Like swords."

"That's the stab of manhood," Phil assures him. "Welcome to the club! Our secrets will be revealed one at a-holy god, that does feel like a sword."

"Why is this happening?" Luke cries out, as pine needles continue to poke and jab them with their every forward effort.

"The pain," Phil joins in. "The pain is unbearable. It's not worth it. It's not worth it! Nothing is worth this kind of torture-"


Ten minutes later, the tree is in place, upright in the Dunphy living room. Phil and Luke stand back and admire their work.

"See, buddy? Piece of cake!"

Luke makes a face. "My mouth tastes like pennies."

Still staring at the tree, awed and full of wonder, Phil tells him, "That's the taste of accomplishment. Drink it in." Then he looks over at Luke, noticing: "Oh god, that's actually blood. That's a whole different flavor. Don't-do not drink that. You really shouldn't be-stop drinking it! Why are you still swallowing? CLAAAAAIRE!"


"Where should we start?" Luke asks several minutes and a mouth cleanse later, staring at seven different boxes dumped beside the tree, all full of Christmas decorations. School made ornaments poke out from one of them; small, glitter-covered felt trees, lots of festively styled popsicle sticks.

"It's instinct," Phil tells him, reverent-sounding. "You go where your gut takes you."

Luke grabs his stomach and hunches over a little. "My gut's still full of leaf needles."

"That's perfect. Follow that. Listen to what else it's saying. It's saying: Luke. Be one with the tree."

"I guess."

Phil tents his fingers thoughtfully beneath his chin, envisions the tree fully dressed in its seasonal attire. Like all Christmas' of Dunphy yore, it just comes to him. Probably he will start with the giant-baby-Jesus-floating-on-a-manger figurine Gloria gave them two Christmas' ago. Take it from there.

Luke, on the other hand, grabs a fourteen inch plastic candy cane, which is just... the opposite of creative or inspiring.

"Hey, Dad, check this out," he says though, and then wields it like a sword. "Christmas pirate!"

Delight swells up inside Phil pretty darn quickly, as does a sense of excitement.

"YES!" he shouts, and grabs his own hilariously large candy cane. He affects a pirate accent, one that is more British-sounding than anything, and role plays, "Ye filthy rascal! Ye'll have no Christmas this fortnight!"


This goes on for ten minutes.


"That was awesome," laughs Luke, collapsing onto the couch. He's now wearing his t-shirt on his head, wrapped around like a bandana. Phil has crafted together an eye patch out of a bright red Christmas bow.

It's at this time that Claire sticks her head into the room to check on the decorating progress.

Upon the sight of the still naked tree and Phil pointing the business end of his candy cane at a surrendering Luke, she marvels, "Seriously?"

"What?" defends Phil.

Claire just breathes out a sigh and heads back to the kitchen.

"We're taking a break!" he shouts after her.

"TRUST ME, PHIL, THAT IS CRYSTAL CLEAR," she yells back.

Luke drags himself to the edge of the couch. "We should get back to work."

"Yeah," Phil exhales.

A memory resurfaces that makes Luke chuckle. "Christmas pirates," he says.

Phil starts to smile. Low, so Claire can't hear, he pirate-voices a Jack Sparrow impression: "But why is all the egg nog gone?"


"This is really cool," Luke says, holding up a pipe cleaner that's twisted and angled to be merry. Only: through time and various packing mishaps, it resembles a green and red smooshed blob more than anything.

Still, Phil's voice is fond when he says, "Haley made that."

"Wow. Really?" Luke reappraises it. "She's not that good."

"Right?"

"What is it supposed to be?"

"I have no idea. Let's see it."

Luke hands it over, and together they try to figure it out.

"Snowman?" tries Luke.

"Impossible. Where's the top hat? The eyes made out of coal? The sense of magic? Oh! What about... candy cane?" He crooks it so that it has a vaguely recognizable shape.

"Nah," Luke decides. "There's way too much green. Santa?"

"Not enough jolly. Rudolph?"

"It doesn't have Rudolph's nose."

"Dasher? Comet? Cupid?"

"What about the Grinch?"

That could work. They flip it into a new position.

"So not the Grinch," Phil deduces.

"This is hard."

"We'll get it. We'll go through every obvious answer if we have to. Gimme a guess."

"Okay. Elf."

"There's a vertical length here that suggests otherwise. But nice one. Keep 'em coming."

"Tree?"

They study the ornament once more. And, actually, squinting? While using your imagination?

"Yes!" Phil high fives Luke. "Buddy, it's a TREE! How in the world did you figure that out?"

Luke's all proud of himself. He shrugs modestly, pushing at the shirt-bandana atop his head. "It just came to me."

"Of course it did."

"Ohhh, hey!" That's Haley, who sweeps by and grabs the pipe cleaner decoration. "You found my N'sync ornament!" Pleased, she hangs it on the Christmas tree. It sways importantly when she stands back to admire it, it being the first and only thing up so far. "Justin Timberlake, you so fine."

As she saunters away with a happy little grin, Luke goes, "Wow, I did not see that coming."

"Ditto that," murmurs Phil.

(Also, it should be noted: that thing looks nothing like an N'sync ornament. Phil would know, because there's like three official commemorated N'sync ornaments still unpacked. Just saying.)


Finally, finally, the decorating begins.


Claire comes in with a plate of warm cookies and two mugs of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows.

"Aww, would you look at that," she coos, putting the goods onto the coffee table. She clasps her hands in front of her face and beams at the sight before her, one of Phil and Luke huddled busily around tree. "My two guys," she says.

When they step back, her entire face goes rigid.

"Like it?" Phil asks. He lets their work speak for itself.

On the tree they have arranged all the ornaments to resemble X-BOX 360. Sure, it leaves 90% of the tree looking bare-sort of a spacial misinterpretation thing going on-but that's what makes it like a billboard. Mark it: 2010 will go down as the year of Billboard Christmas Trees.

"What's-" Claire scratches behind her ear, wears that smile that usually means he will be groveling soon, for various reasons. "What's that all about, huh?" She's gesturing in a circular motion towards the tree. Not looking super stoked.

Phil trades a glance with Luke. "Should we tell her what it means, buddy?"

"We sorta have to."

"Right. 'Cause Mom's boss."

"PHIL," Claire breathes out. There's a warning there.

"That's a GOOD thing, silly," he duhs. "It's slang. Urban Dictionary actually has a really awesome definition-"

He's pulling out his iPhone, but Claire just turns on her heels and walks off.

"Claire?" Phil calls after her.

She holds up a firm, hard-edged hand. It says: Not now, Phil. Not now.

Phil gulps.

Luke nods, pleased. "She totally liked it."


Turns out, Claire didn't actually care for the tree in billboard form. That's what that storm-off was about. So Phil and Luke spend the next fifteen minutes rearranging the ornaments in a way that Phil finds lacks any real artistic credibility, but because he busted out a Christmas playlist that features all the best classics (you can't go wrong with anything that's ever been sung by an animated character) and they dipped into the left behind cookies, it's fine. More than fine.

Later they will sit down as a family. Haley will text Dylan. Good, sweet Dylan. Alex will roll her eyes. Claire might still be holding that 'boss' thing against Phil, so... well, there will be some pretty krunk groveling later. (Urban Dictionary's definition of 'krunk': crazy, off the hook, insane.)

But for now?

Luke gets tangled up in the Christmas lights. His pirate hat/shirt-bandana gets one of its buttons caught and threatens to take the whole thing down. Luke starts to tug. There's a slight panic. The tree begins to tip.

"Stop struggling!"

"It's poking my head!"

"Needles are its only natural defense! It's not personal. It's actually a pretty clever ruse."

"Dad!"

Some quick untying, a hard yank, and Luke is free. He steps back and catches his breath.

"That... was... AWESOME!"

"Heck yeah it was!"

Right. Things are good. You might even say: they're dazzling.

(Seriously, though. Think about it. The Cullens probably have the best tree ever.)


THE END