Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

You know the holidays are officially over when Janet Hart reaches for a gun and starts blasting away at her Christmas tree.

On second thought, maybe “blasting” is a bit of exaggeration, because Hart’s weapon of choice is an air rifle. “Plinking” is a more accurate term, from both grammatical and ballistic standpoints. When you’re a seasoned Christmas tree shooter, these things matter.

“Shooting of the Christmas Tree” has become quite a tradition around the Hart household—and I promise on a stack of sugarplums I’m not making this up. In fact, she sends out fancy invitations, one of which I hold in my hands as we speak.

“We always do it on New Year’s Eve,” Hart informed me. “Rain and fog can hold the crowd down somewhat, but we put up a shelter in the yard so nobody gets wet.”

Please understand: This is not a casual shot across the bow—or bough, as the case may be. This is a complete fusillade. It commences around 8:30 p.m. and doesn’t conclude until nearly midnight, when more than 100 glass ornaments and numerous strings of lights have been shattered. Then everyone repairs back inside to dance, make merry, and welcome in the new year.

In case the question just popped into your mind, the answer is a resounding yes; there most certainly is a reason behind such a bizarre celebration. It all happened like this:

Hart’s mother died in 2000, and the first Christmas without her was a sad one. The post-Christmas blues are bad enough under the best of circumstances, but this was a particularly difficult time to endure.

Then Hart recalled a tale her mom had handed down decades earlier.

“It was one of those family stories everybody talked about,” she said. “It happened more than 50 years ago, even before Mom and Dad had kids. My aunt and uncle were visiting, and everybody was bored. So they actually shot a few ornaments off the tree.

“The year after Mom died I got to thinking about that. Then the idea hit me. I turned to my son Sam and said, ‘Where’s your BB gun?’”

Thus, a tradition was born.

Here’s the drill: The tree is ceremoniously carried into the yard. A tarp is put down to collect the rubble. Then the firing begins.

“I always take the first shot,” Hart told me. “I look up and say, ‘Mom, this one’s for you.’ Our guests bring their own BB guns, and we shoot ’til nothing is left.”

Naturally, this calls for fresh “targets” on an annual basis. Hart always scours the after-Christmas sales to stock up on glass balls and lights for the following year’s festivities.

“One year right before Christmas, my daughter Emily and I were in a store, and she saw this gorgeous ornament. She hollered out, ‘Oh, Mom, let’s buy it! But please don’t shoot it off the tree!’”

Hart took a moment or two for both of us to stop laughing. Then she quipped, “I don’t know what the rest of the people in that store must’ve been thinking.”

This being gun-toting East Tennessee, they probably were exceedingly jealous.

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at .