It was our first Christmas. We had been married only a few months, and our three- room basement apartment was still big enough for a 6 foot tree that took up most of the living space. There were only a few decorations on it, but it smelled wonderful. The bottom of the trunk had needed some leveling, and now it stood in its tree stand, two strands of lights and a home-made star of aluminum foil on top.
A knock at the door. "Hsst! Hey Mike!" someone spoke. Some talking back and forth, and then the door closed. "What was that about?" I asked. "Oh, somebody from the neighborhood--I know him-wanted to borrow my saw. Probably wants to level his own tree."
Christmas Day we headed out to visit family. Outside our basement door was the saw, returned. As we headed up the street, the house on the corner with the carefully nurtured row of evergreens was missing one tree. A carefully sawed stump remained. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Ranch House Tree
Time passed. We now had a home and a few children as well. The addition on our ranch boasted a high, sloping ceiling-- perfect for the huge tree Himself dragged in through the patio door. With a few muttererings under his breath, a lacerated finger and an hour or so later, the huge tree was at last safe in its moorings, lashed 'round with fishing line to steady it, and warm water sloshing in the tree stand.
The roll of lights, tangled as usual despite my promise to make them neat and tidy last year, had finally been twisted and turned into place. More ornaments had been accumulated in those years since our first Christmas together, and the children had a part in decorating.
"Look! This is the one I made in kindergarten!" one would say, excited that the salt dough candy cane had survived another year.
"Aw, my Yule log fell apart," another said, the brown art paper and red tissue paper flames having fallen off the toilet paper roll. But glue and sparkles soon made any worn ornament look like new. The delicate, glass-thin baubles from family trees of old were scattered around the top of the tree, safe from the tail wagging of the current dog, even if not yet safe from the maniacal cat. She would express her resentment at the disturbing of her normal routine by jumping to the center of the tree and remained there despite much coaxing, batting at the brass angel bell.
The Goodbye Christmas Tree
And then there was the Christmas 4 years ago. Everyone was coming for Christmas. Coming from Texas, from Kansas, from 3 counties in Ohio. The tree was set up, now a fold-up tree with hooked branches to click in place, and lights already attached. In spite of the "Pre-Fab" tree, the ornaments were the tried-and-true ones with new additions here and there. This tree glowed with light and sparkle. Presents were put beneath the tree, all sizes and shapes and with the little tin village arranged around the tree skirt, it seemed all was ready for Christmas.
But first the photos had to be taken. The littlest guy, not yet 2, toddled over to his oldest cousin who was sitting cross-legged by the tree. Plunking himself down in his cousin's lap, he demanded "Read me!" and handed him his Golden Book.
Yes, a Kodak moment for sure. So we took photos by the dozens, of each person, each pair, each group, every smile, every rabbit-ear photo, every bow-stuck-on-the-forehead. (A family tradition that defies explanation except that it wouldn't be Christmas without that). The photos were quickly printed out at the local 24-hour drug store.
Then we headed to the hospital.That was where Himself was, marooned in a high bed with oxygen and wires enveloping him. He smiled at all the photos, and then they were taped all over the doors. We couldn't stay long. He was tiring fast. The last one to head out the door, the littlest guy, turned and ran quickly back and climbed up as far as he could, leaned in, said with his very best lisp, "Mewwy Cwissmas, Poppa!"
Hospital personnel would later comment on the funny family poses, and then say, " A fine family you have," and Himself would nod a "yes" and smile.
A Tree Small and Big
Christmas this year was going to be without a tree. I have decorated trees for many years. Enough. The spirit of Christmas is still within, though, although the bright flame of busy-ness and preparation has burnt itself out. A few batches of cookies, a wreath at the door, that's it. Or so I thought.
"Well, you just have to have a Christmas Tree!" said an old friend, another widow like me, chiding me for my Grinchiness.
So she pulled from her plastic bag an 8-inch fiber optic tree, complete with battery to light up the sky---or perhaps just the nearest candy dish. So there sits my Christmas Tree on the dining room table, nary a pine needle, nary a glistening bauble, nary a popcorn string or paper chain, nary a present beneath it.
And you know what? I am blessed to have it there, winkless wonder that it is. In its little glow I can see the concern of an old friend. In its little glow I can see every Christmas I have ever been privileged to celebrate--the faces of family now gone, the faces of children grown, faces of the young ones growing up and away. The clutter, the noise, the mishaps, the surprises and even the disappointments all happened around Christmas trees we have had.
Ever Green. Green is the color of hope. And we choose the evergreen to hang our baubles and our hopes upon. No matter how big or small, real or unreal, our Christmas trees confirm that we are still a hopeful people-even with our bows stuck on our foreheads, even with our rabbit-ear photos, even missing those we love. We continue to hope, because we know He has come.
As you trim your tree this year, may you keep your own hopes ever green!
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