Today the Christmas tree comes down from the attic. Asleep in its ragged cardboard box- the wire branches pressed into zigzagged mazes- the sight of this artificial evergreen creates within me both excitement and dread. My scrooge-ish attitude as I free the deformed tree will surely change. Won't it? After clearing off the cobwebs and mouse poop and last years stubborn tinsel, it will become beautiful again. Bright with twinkling lights, mirrored balls, feathered birds and metal stars. It is a symbol of family, sharing, hope. A place of our focus as we share music and food and unbridled laughter that rings out into the winter sky. How could I not become joyous? How could I ever have thought otherwise?
Over the years, my Christmas trees have taught me valuable lessons.
As a child I learned that even if your tree is not as big and pretty as everyone else's, it doesn't mean that Santa won't come to your house. Cookies and ham will still taste perfectly delicious, hymns will still sound sacred and sweet, and even tears will come to your eyes as you are overwhelmed with the magic of it all.
As a newlywed, my tree taught me that decorating was not as easy as it looked. That a half dozen ornaments and two strings of light are not enough. That sometimes you have to cut the tip to make room for the star. That pine needles are a pain to vacuum. And that no matter how beautiful it may seem, a Christmas tree eventually outstays its welcome.
But it also taught me that no matter if your budget says you have ten dollars left over for the week, it's the little gifts you find under the tree on Christmas morning that are truly priceless.
My Christmas trees have taught me about the passing of time. I miss watching my kids pull out ornaments and icicles and snowmen from the storage boxes, their eyes wide with excitement, their flannel pajamas catching static tinsel and cookie crumbs, their little fingers hanging unbalanced reindeer and crooked candy canes...It was like a blur of fights and fun and fir.
But afterward, when night fell and all the lights were off except the tree, a peace fell over the entire world. Snuggled up together in a trance, my kids sat dreaming of snow and gifts and love. And it was worth every sliver of broken bulb and messy carpet and pile of forsaken laundry.
I did not know then that time would pass so quickly- that soon the years would find me
pulling out the ornaments by myself. That they would still be placed crooked. That the tree would still lean. That my sweater would be striped with silver tinsel before I was finished.
...And that later I would catch myself in that same Christmas tree trance.
However, the past few years I've come to realize that it's not the Christmas tree that brings the joy, it's the people with whom you share it. It's as simple as that.
So, my tree will be decorated today. And once the clutter and mess and work is finished, I will love it.
I just can't help but wonder what lessons I'll learn this time...