Oh Christmas Tree

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Wow…It’s hard to believe there’s less than a week to go before Christmas. Did time fly faster than normal this year?

I’ve always loved Christmas. It’s a time of the year spent reflecting on the past. As the days get shorter, I can’t help thinking I’ve lived such a relatively short time. But fifty years seemed so long when I was a kid! When I think back to all of the Christmases I’ve experienced and the traditions I’ve carried with me over the years, the Christmas tree is foremost in all of them. Other customs come and go, but the tree is the single Christmas tradition that reminds me of each particular year.

We put up our Christmas tree last weekend. It’s not a very big one, but it looks nice in front of the window with all of our family ornaments on it. They are about the only thing I wanted to drag out of storage for decoration. We have a large apartment, but it’s small for four people who are used to a large house. It makes me particularly sensitive to clutter, and holiday decorations would just add to the problem. So this year it’s just the tree, a five and a half foot live fir from the local hardware store. It seems relatively small compared to previous years. But when I think of all the Christmases we’ve spent together (thirty!), I can’t complain.

It’s interesting how Christmas trees mark the changes in our lives. When Shujin and I first celebrated Christmas together, we had few decorations and used a small live tree for the first couple of years. It was just like this year’s tree except we used store bought glass ball ornaments. After we married, we used a table top artificial tree for a few years. We were renting at the time, and were both content to have minimal decoration and celebrate with our cats and dog.

The table top tree persisted until we had our second home built and the kids were about 3 and 5. We had room in the living area for a big tree, and bought a pretty artificial one that lasted four or five years. The boys loved that tree! It must have seemed huge to them, even though it was only about 7 feet tall. They helped decorate it but could only reach the lower half’s branches. All of the cool ornaments, the snowmen, their own handmade reindeer and framed pictures, and anything sparkly, were therefore located at kid height, while I hung the less cool ornaments up near the top.

When I went back to work and we moved to a bigger house, we got an even prettier, larger tree, the kind that has the lights already strung on it. We’ve had it the longest of all, about nine years now. Last year it showed it’s wear with branches bent in the permanently odd positions that come with being crushed in a box for eleven months of the year. We talked about replacing it. Ultimately we decided to keep it for another year before making the decision. It was still the nicest tree we ever had, and it assembled easily in four pieces. It was just showing it’s love.

But this year there was absolutely no room for that big tree in our small living area, so it stayed in its box in storage. The little tree we chose smells wonderful and looks nice, but I kind of miss the big tree. Not because of the size but because of nostalgia for the Christmases we spent together as a young family. Over the years, our Christmas tree has changed as our family has changed. With all the expected changes in 2017, we might not be together next year. So this little Christmas tree marks the beginning of the next phase in our family life, maybe the last Christmas before the kids are out on their own and it’s just us again.

Maybe we won’t be able to use the big Christmas tree again for awhile. If we are on the road next year, I expect we’ll have an even smaller tree, if we have one at all. But someday I hope we’ll be in another house with space for a big tree. And grandchildren will come over to share Christmas with us. Maybe we’ll pull the big tree out of it’s box and it won’t look bad at all. It might look pretty good with all of the cool ornaments hanging on the lower half. No one will notice the oddly bent branches.

Except me. I’ll smile when I see them, and perhaps tell the grandchildren about how their fathers helped decorate the same tree when they were little.

And maybe that old tree will mark a new phase in our lives.


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