It is the countdown to Christmas and I couldn’t be more excited. Honestly, I’m like a kid sometimes. I love everything about this season, lights that shimmer off tinsel, trees adorned in holiday attire, cocoa capped with mounds of marshmallows. I love the shy, excited faces of children as they stand in line to see Santa, the joy of someone buying a gift, the get-togethers with family. There’s almost nothing I don’t like.
Almost. Because this year, for the first time, I struggled with decorating my home. My husband and I purged much of what we owned, including most of our holiday decorations, some broken, some just very, very old, and what is left fits in one small box we can fit in the corner of a closet. That, and one tall, artificial, pre-lit Christmas tree.
I’ve never been much into holiday decorating. True, I’d owned a few wreaths, always had a tree, set candy canes out, and even made gingerbread houses. Never an extreme amount of holiday glitz. But this year, I didn’t even want that. I wanted nothing to do with decorating. Not one single thing.
We weren’t having Christmas at our house. It was only my husband and myself. And our home was as simple and clean as I liked it. Besides, if I set up a tree, and filled our home with decorations, wouldn’t that be hypocritical as a simple hippie? What would that be saying about who I really am?
Yet, it was Christmas. And I love Christmas. And in my heart, I knew I needed a few pieces to remind of why I loved this season.
I pulled out the box, emptied the few contents on the bed: a tiny elf, two tiny white trees, a candle, a framed picture, a fluffy little owl, and two glittery glass balls. Each item something I cherished, and for whatever reason, held meaning for me. I placed the pieces around our home. Everything except the large green artificial tree.
We wouldn’t be needing a tree this year, and truth is, I didn’t want to mess with it. In fact, I was struggling with whether or not to give it to the thrift store when I received a call.
My son and daughter-in-law, who were to have Christmas dinner this year, ran into some unexpected circumstances. Would I be willing to do it?
I didn’t hesitate. Willing? Yes! I was ecstatic. This year our whole family would be together. I loved cooking for them, loved the laughter and chatter that filled the house, loved the sound of little children in the background.
The children. I thought about them as I looked around our home, our quiet, clean, simple home, a home that didn’t look much different now than any other day of the year. A home that certainly didn’t look like Christmas.
I wondered what they’d think when they bounded through the door. I wondered what they’d see that Christmas morning. Would they know it was Christmas? Would they see twinkling lights and holiday decorations? Would they hear soft music in the background?
I thought how important senses are to a child, how inside every little sight and sound, in the mix of every smell, rests a memory waiting to be made. What would they see? What would they remember?
No glamor. No glitz. No twinkling lights. No Christmas tree.
It was a dilemma, one between the simple hippie in me, and the one who didn’t want to disappoint family, or children.
The next day, my husband pulled the tree out of the garage and placed it on the living room floor before leaving for work. I passed the tree many times that day, but every time I walked by, I couldn’t bring myself to set it up. I dragged it back to the garage.
What was it about the tree that bothered me? Was it that I felt like a hypocrite, or was I truly tired of having a tree?
Then it hit me. I wasn’t tired of the tree. I loved Christmas trees – the green, the magnificent presence, the lights that glittered on the branches. And whether others saw it as hypocritical or not, the fact is, for me, there was meaning in that green plastic artificial tree. I knew then, Christmas wasn’t about the tree, the lights, the gifts, the glitter and glitz. And it certainly wasn’t about me. I knew what I had to do.
Once again, I had my husband pull the tree into the house. This time, I watched as he put it together, branches over branches, plugging each piece in until it was lit up. When he was done, I draped thin silver garland across the branches, sparkles of glitter against holiday lights.
As I stood back and admired the tree, I recalled when my husband and I bought it, a year that, like many of my memories, is vague and washed-out. What I do remember is a husband who took me to buy a tree to replace the real ones I could no longer be around. A husband who celebrated the season with me, a season in which I appreciated life like I never had.
I will always have a tree. It is more than fake branches in our home. It is a symbol of life, celebration, and the One True Gift we’ve been given. It is a reminder that Christmas is not about me. It is family. It is memories made, and memories yet to come. And sometimes those memories rest inside the green plastic branches of an artificial tree.