It's a week later than I like, but I finally put up my big Christmas tree. I have to fully disclose that is all I've done though - put up the tree. Right now it is a blank canvas of evergreen. Each Christmas season, my house is turned into a Christmas village - a holiday wonderland. There is no room left to question whether or not I love Christmas.! It is a monumental undertaking - one that many in the South embrace with enthusiasm and passion. I am no exception. I've spent every day since Thanksgiving week adding to my holiday decor, saving my main tree for last. My love of Christmas and "donning the tree" goes much further than our southern tradition.
As I sit here looking at my old worn tree and seeking the motivation to begin decorating, I am flooded with memories. I've had this tree since my son Josh was a young boy. It is one of those old style trees where every single branch has to be clipped in and shaped. The stately old thing is rusted and dry rotted and sheds as much or more than a live tree. I've thought of replacing it, but have found nothing to compare. Honestly, I don't think it is altogether because of it's size and shape but the sentimental reflections it fills the room, my mind, and heart with.
My son was only six years old when I brought this tree back home. His biological father was deceased, and the only other man he had called Daddy was estranged from us. I had taken the leap to give marriage one more try - for all the wrong reasons possible. During separation prior to divorce, I had come home to my family and was living in a garage apartment above my Daddy's machine shop. All of my decorations as well as other larger belongings were still at my soon-to-be ex's house in the country. I called him up and told him I wanted to come get my special Christmas tree as well as all of the ornaments. They all belonged to me prior to our marriage. The ornaments were a collection of treasures I had acquired and added to, since the birth of my son. Josh was born three months premature, and was my miracle. Each ornament and toy that was nestled under the tree every year was a precious memory of how he had survived and grown.
After speaking with my husband, he told me that he couldn't handle seeing us and he would leave the tree and the boxes of decorations on the porch of his house for us to pick up. The day came for us to drive to the country. I was anxious but a bit relieved I didn't have to see my estranged husband. I was also excited to bring these precious memories home with me. Once we arrived, I saw the boxes on the porch just like he said. Or so I thought. As I began to sort through them, my tree wasn't there at all but instead an old dilapidated tree I did not recognize. The box of ornaments were not mine either, but rather cheap Dollar Store knock-offs. I was boiling mad and devastated. Hot tears began to pour down my cheeks.
I picked up the phone and called my husband at his office. He swore he knew nothing about it and said that "someone" must've stolen my things. The theory was ludicrous. No one would steal something off a porch and take the time to pick and choose what they wanted. Nor would they leave old items in their place. I knew my husband's family had ransacked my stuff, took what they wanted and left their old trash for me. The train set that circled the tree was gone. The ladder and bears that climbed the tree were missing. There was no "Baby's 1st Christmas," nor any of the other items that had brought a twinkle to my baby boy's eyes. I went head to head with my husband for a moment and he told me to come to the business to get the new big tree we had bought for the lobby. Getting a better tree was some solace, but could not fill the hole in my heart over losing the keepsakes that were memories of the miracles of Joshua's birth and growth in his first few years.
We loaded the truck and I balled like a baby all the way home. A few days later, I composed myself from my days of grief, went out and purchased all new ornaments with my paycheck and decorated that massive tree which took up a major portion of our tiny garage apartment. Decorating the Christmas tree had become something more than a southern tradition or even a holiday activity. It had become a testimony of starting over, new beginnings, overcoming hurts, and never giving up. Those intangible sparkling keepsakes are what I've "seen" and enjoyed every year as I've decorated my tree since that fateful day eighteen years ago.
A few years ago, someone special to me volunteered to help me put up this massive tree. My son, now grown, did not have the same interest in putting up the tree. Also, due to some health issues, tackling it alone was daunting the year my friend came on board with being my "Santa." The joy and new memories we created added an even greater sparkle to this majestic tree. My sweet Santa Claus even bought lovely new LED lights for the tree. The moments we shared that first year together are something we both hold precious and I will treasure always.
Reminiscing about all the things this tree means to me, brings tears to my eyes once again. Not hot tears of anger and grief, but tears of love and joy for what Christmas embodies through the simplicity of twinkling lights, evergreen branches, shiny ornaments and dancing bears. It is love, laughter, the joy of sharing precious moments and celebrating miracles in the making. I'm not sure how many more years my "store bought" evergreen will survive, but I have a feeling I will be sweeping up fiber pine needles for many years to come.
UPDATE: The photo of the tree is actually this year's creation. Finally finished my labor of love after first writing this blog post. I must admit I think it turned out even better than last year's. I love my majestic old Christmas Tree!