Just in case you didn’t get the memo, Christmas is next week. The thing about Christmas is that it’s such an emotional and sentimental time of year. It’s a blaring, hard-to-swallow juxtaposition of sweet and bittersweet as we hold babies and consciously make memories, and also think about Christmases past and those who are no longer here.
When I was a very little kid, we had a tiny, tabletop artificial tree. I don’t know what became of it, but in later years, we usually had a real tree. I didn’t even know what a tree stand or tree skirt was when I was a kid, such simple country folk were we. Daddy would go somewhere on the farm and cut a small pine and bring it home. Mommy would put it in a five-gallon plastic bucket with some gravel from the driveway to make it stand up straight, and there ya go. Every day we had to water the tree, as Daddy knew it was drying out fast, and was always concerned about fire, since we had, in the same room, an open fireplace that we used daily for heat, not romance. I smelled like a chimney every day until I left home; I hated it then, but miss it now.
The tree was never full or perfect and I knew as a kid that it didn’t look like others I saw on TV. I didn’t like our sad, little Charlie Brown trees with limpy branches that didn’t hold up the ornaments and huge empty spots. Now I wish I had a picture of one and would love to be around it again. It isn’t the perfection of the tree that matters at all, is it?
Somehow the ornaments have changed over the years. I have none of the ornaments that once graced our family tree as a kid, and I wonder what happened to them. Lost and broken over the years, I guess, although I don’t remember seeing any at all when I cleaned out my dad’s house.
The lights were the big outdoor kind, with each bulb being the size of your thumb, and always multi-colored; we had no clear lights. The ornaments were balls wrapped in red silk that was always coming apart. We used the kind of foil looking garland to wrap around it and tinsel until my mother got mad at the mess. I argued for it later, and I won my case, as it was brought back to the tree. Does anyone still use tinsel? I miss that mess.
One year my dad brought home a cedar. I didn’t like it then because it didn’t look how I thought a Christmas tree ought to, like the ones on cards and TV. We once again hung ornaments on its limp branches and made the best of it. I do recall picking the needles out of the carpet for years, though, and my mother swore no more cedar trees after that. What I wouldn’t give to be back in that room watering that awful tree.
Christmas is really about the birth of our Lord, Jesus. What on earth does a tree have to do with that? Nothing as far as I can tell. I’m sure you can find some analogy if you try but they tell me it’s a pagan custom. It doesn’t mean that to me, or you, though, so let’s keep it. Seems harmless enough. Someone else’s can be pagan; mine is just pretty.
Perhaps it’s an affinity for trees in general anyway that I possess. I named my son Oak after all. Trees have a finite lifespan. If you go for a real tree, you have a different one every year; even if you go artificial these days, they don’t last forever. Mine is currently on its tenth year. None of the pre-lit lights work anymore, and I now regret getting such a big one, as it becomes more and more of a chore to put up, but she went back up again this year, and I have no immediate plans for a new one. That’s money I don’t have, Clark.
Maybe trees could be a metaphor for Christmas itself. They bring beauty and joy and then they pass on, just like we all do, just like every holiday does. The fake ones aren’t as nice, just like a life lived without really living. It might be there for awhile, but what do you really have to show for it? Who remembers a specific tree? Maybe one person if it matters to them, and after that person is gone, the tree won’t be remembered at all…exactly like us. Brief and meaningless, here only for a time.
The real trees have a smell and a birthplace. The real ones are imperfect just like us and therefore more beautiful, I think. Every real tree is unique, just like us, and has just as short a moment in the sun sometimes.
I think of trees past and holidays gone and wonder at the trees and Christmases to come. Who will the new ones gathered around be? I hope not to lose anymore. Let’s just add some babies to the mix.
A teacher and mother, Meagan Morehead Bradshaw lives on a farm in Bland County; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.