December 15, 2010

To Tree? . . . Or Not to Tree?

Trouble’s brewing in my family.

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.


Katherine "Speedracer" Russaw said...

Wonderful! very insightful... Meery Christmas to you and your family and tell your mom that I said hello!

Phil D. Malmstrom said...

It's amazing what triggers we attach to certain memories throughout our lives. You're right of course, that the Celebration is all about Jesus, but the memories we generate from this Blessed Season are part of God's Gifts to us as well. Thank you for sharing this!

Kelly said...

What can I say? We are creatures of habit. We love traditions. My grandma didn't want to decorate last year for Christmas, but we "changed her mind"...only for her to take down half of the decorating we did. This year, when she said no, we respected that. Now? She is wondering why she doesn't have Christmas lights ;)

Merry Christmas, Kelli!

Mary Thompson said...

I have the perfect solution getting older and wanting to simplify...a fake tree. Put it up, decorate, enjoy the lights and colors for a few weeks, and then reverse the steps. No heading out to a tree farm or garden center to shell out big bucks for a fire hazard that smells nice but leaves droppings all over the carpet. Christmas is about Jesus and the gift of salvation but our cultural and family traditions are sure a pleasant diversions from the day to day pressures of life here on earth in 2010. God bless us everyone. See you tonight Kelli.

Cheryl Barker said...

Kelli, I love Christmas trees as well and totally understand your emotions about the season. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas -- maybe something new will happen to add a special touch and kind of make up for the missing tree. Love those special moments of Christmas...

Sue J. said...

What you don't need Christmas to be is "Christmas in Boca" Part II. I'm glad you have been forewarned, at least, which will help you in this last week to shake off some expectations. None of that behavior will make up for missing memories, but it will open the door for, as Cheryl suggests, something new to happen.

My parents bought a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" for years and years--even after the 4 of us were gone. Suddenly, they sent out a picture of their new ARTIFICIAL tree!! GAK! Who knew it was possible?! And my mom even started mailing back our old ornaments to us for use on our own trees. What?! You don't want these for the family tree?!

You know how we think our kids don't need us, sometimes, and yet we learn how they crave our stability. Same goes with parents and Christmas. Don't ever change, right?

Enjoy your tree, celebrate in worship and then be ready for a cherished time with your folks.

Terri Tiffany said...

We haven't had a tree in a few years and this year my daughter came here in NOV and made us out one up! LOL It's a lot of work for two people and we aren't even doing anything with people that day, so I really have to focus on the reason for the season.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Hope you survived the WCE part II. Ours was very different this year; mostly, I missed it. Life has been a blur; how thankful I am for a Christ and Christmas that isn't confined to a calendar but rather comes to me on any given day of the year.

Blessings to you and yours in the coming year. May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.