Now that Christmas is behind us -- though frankly, I still can feel its warm, piney breath on my neck -- I think it's fair to raise a few questions.

Now that Christmas is behind us -- though frankly, I still can feel its warm, piney breath on my neck -- I think it's fair to raise a few questions.

The big Christmas question, of course, has to do with that tree inside the house. We all know it's a pagan custom co-opted by 15th-century Christians, but ancient history isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about bringing an outside thing -- and you can't get anymore outside than a tree -- inside.

No wonder dogs look at us with concern, as if they're about to call for help. Can I push the phone buttons with a pencil in my teeth? more intelligent dogs ask themselves. (Less intelligent dogs think only in exclamation points.) No wonder cats stalk out of the room with their tails in the air or try to climb the tree before it's secured in its holder. They're trying to show us that whatever we're up to, they are not in.

Pets behave this way for purely selfish reasons, of course. Dogs and cats know where their next meal is coming from, and they know it won't come if we lose our grip on reality. If they could, they'd shake us by the lapels and say "Get hold of yourself, man!"

In spite of their alarm, though, we bring a tree inside, hang lights and knick-knacks on its branches, and stand back to say, "This is the best tree ever!" It reminds me of the news story several years ago about two women who came upon a fawn while driving, picked it up and decided to pierce its ears because they thought earrings would make the fawn look even more darling. Aren't unpierced fawns darling enough? Aren't the trees we see outside every day the best ever?

Apparently not even I think so, since my husband and I decorate a tree every year and then step back and say, well, you know what we say. Furthermore, we're telling the truth as we see it, although another part of me continues to ask "A tree? Inside?" right up until we take the tree down after Christmas.

For several years, my husband and I have dismantled the tree in what I suspect is an unconventional way: We surround it with a drop cloth after removing the lights and ornaments and start clipping the branches with a long-handled lopper: small branches first, then larger ones and finally the large husky ones attached to the central trunk. When we're finished, we have in our living room a tall vertical stick. It suggests we decorated a broom handle for Christmas.It's not surprising, really, that peculiar holiday customs give us a touch of vertigo. Spending Christmas in a country where the holiday is celebrated by pelting one's family members with raw chicken livers would hardly be more discomposing.

The tree is only one of the many Christmas questions I ask each year. I also wonder why the cloth people put under the tree to disguise the fact that it isn't growing from the living room floor is called a tree skirt. Shouldn't it be called the tree sock, since it goes around the foot?

And stockings. No one hangs up their actual socks anymore, if in fact they ever did. What I'd like to believe began as a charming vignette -- a row of stockings ranging from grandpa's long black silk one to the baby's tiny crocheted bootie -- has become a collection of huge felt socks that nobody would possibly wear on their feet. Each sock is wide enough to hold a waffle maker.

Not that I'm being holier than thou. Thou may well be holier than I, because our Christmas stockings would easily slide up the leg of a young bull elephant. Furthermore, when our girls were young we didn't hesitate to fill their stockings to the brim and beyond. I can still ask questions, though, can't I? I can still exercise a healthy sense of curiosity, can't I?

With two family babies growing every day, I'm sure I'll generate more questions by next year. Shouldn't some Christmas trees have no branches from the midway point down? They might look like tall girls in short dresses, but those are the only trees possible for parents of toddlers.

Another thing: Why isn't it against the law to manufacture toys that play the same music or the same sounds over and over? The first several dozen times a person hears The William Tell Overture or the sound of 12 drummers drumming are one thing, but after that the urge to kill kicks in, and I don't care if it is the season to be jolly. Believe me, as a mother of former toddlers I testify from experience, and somewhere around here we may still have the battered Speak 'N' Spell to prove it.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek News columnist and copy editor.