December 15, 2010
To Tree? . . . Or Not to Tree?
It started in November when my mom declared she wasn’t putting up a Christmas tree this year.
“What?! No tree?” I stammered. “But why?!”
In my shock and dismay all I recall is, “Because, blah blah blah, time involved, blah blah blah, getting older, blah blah blah, Christmas.”
For weeks I’ve tried whining/coaxing/coercing/guilting my mom into changing her mind. (Very adolescent of me, I know.) I’ll give her points for consistency—she’s not budging: “I’ll decorate the house, but I’m not putting up a tree.”
Her decision would perplex—but not bother—me if we weren’t planning to spend Christmas day at my parents’ house. Perhaps I’ve carried on a bit too much because my exasperated mother finally said to me, “You of all people know that Christmas isn’t about a tree!”
Ouch! More points for Mom.
Introspective as always, I pondered why I’m so disturbed by her lack of a Christmas tree.
As I lay on the metaphorical therapist's couch, my inner shrink probed, "Tell me about your childhood."
A memory triggered of a Christmas we spent in Florida when I was about 13. It's not-so-affectionately been named the Worst Christmas Ever (WCE for short). My family and I drove 20-some grueling hours from New Jersey straight through to Boca Raton (which in itself is a traumatic memory) and arrived at my grandfather’s house exhausted but excited.
“Where’s the Christmas tree?” my sister and I asked as we looked around the small house—as if it one had to search hard to find a large evergreen covered in decorations and bright lights.
“It’s out there on the patio,” my grandfather’s wife Minnette said.
My sister and I ran to investigate. And, there it was—a citrus tree strung with white lights. No decorations, no tinsel, no star on top. In a room that technically wasn't even part of the house. We were crestfallen.
“No Christmas tree?!” my sister and I stared at each other in disbelief.
It didn’t help our already battered Christmas spirit when moments after opening gifts on Christmas morning, Minnette announced, “OK kids, pick up your presents and put them away. Company’s coming.”
I still feel the sting of the Christmas that wasn’t. (Although, in all fairness to Minnette, she was Jewish).
The other day my sister and I talked on the phone about Christmas plans and commiserated about my parents’ lack of a Christmas tree.
“It’s like Christmas in Boca,” she said. Turns out I’m not the only one who still feels the sting.
So, is Christmas really Christmas without a tree? (Or decorations or carols or cookies?)
That’s when I had a revelation—which was probably more a stating of the obvious than a deep insight. Understand, I love Jesus and I’m excited about his birth. I’m truly filled with awe and wonder that God sent Jesus as He did—every day of the year. But Christmas as I know it IS about more than the baby in the manger.
It’s an emotional touch point of my year. A cozy blanket of memories I snuggle into. A binding of family and friends. A revisiting of old traditions and making of new ones. It’s not so much about the presents, but the experiences.
Experiences set on a backdrop of Christmas decorations and twinkly lights, music and mistletoe, candles and cookies. And the center of it all is a Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree.
Since before we were married, Dan and I have collected ornaments from our various travels. As we unpack them each year, we unpack two decades of memories. Of life lived well. Our tree is the story of us—first two, then three, now four. We choose "to tree" with enthusiasm.
But, my parents are entering a new phase of their lives. It's likely they'll make more "cut backs" that will upset my traditional expectations. Maybe one day, Dan and I will choose to scale down Christmas or (gasp!) even forgo a tree.
For now, while I'm disappointed I'm not such a fool as to think we're heading toward WCE: The Sequel. Christmas in New Jersey (at my parents') will be nothing like Christmas in Boca. It will be festive and beautiful and lingering—and Jesus-focused. And no matter what emotional attachments I have toward the "props" of Christmas, I realize it's our being together that will make Christmas joyful.
Tree or no tree.