As November began to wind down, my thoughts turned to the large box in the basement. Time to bring the tree upstairs. Wrestling it up the steps, pulling away the packaging tape, I drag out each piece. The artificial twigs are beginning to show age and are leaving a trail almost as messy as a cut tree at the end of December. I wonder if maybe I’d rather go out and purchase a beautiful cut tree….and then quickly dismiss that thought. I remember the falling needles all during the holidays, the difficulties in removing them from the carpet…No, I think I’ll stick with the artificial.
I love having a tree in my home, but each year it seems more difficult to get excited about the work of setting it up, decorating it, and then de-decorating and putting it all away the first week of January. But about the time I talk myself out of the whole ordeal, memories of days gone by flood my mental vision, and I know I will be setting up the tree.
An old German Carol, origin unknown, summed up the nostalgia of bringing a tree into the home at Christmas time. “O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! Thy leaves are so unchanging.”
I suppose the leaves are so unchanging when they are left in the natural state of growing on a hillside, but the trees that were cut and brought into our homes in the early 50’s would definitely beg for an additional verse…one that spoke of the needles falling, and the tree drooping.
As I began setting up my tree, unbending each branch, arranging it in such a way to make it look natural, I realized I was thinking about many trees of the past – mostly artificial, that I had enjoyed. A sense of sadness began to creep over me…almost melancholy…a sense of loss about the many people who were no longer with me. It was then I realized I was humming the tune, O Christmas Tree, but singing a different version than the old German Carol. The version of the song I best remember is written by Aretha Franklin.
“O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How lovely are thy branches…”
The memories became precious…I remembered the pictures I had seen of my mother and dad’s very first Christmas tree.
Made me laugh a little – then I remembered my first tree after we got married. It was a baby Cedar tree with a diameter at the base of about 3 inches. We had no ax. Climbing over a barb-wire fence into a cow pasture, armed with a steak knife, we finally got the thing cut down. I guess it did the trick and passed as a Christmas tree, but we took no pictures. I’m not even sure if it was obtained legally since we didn’t know who owned the pasture. (Sure hope the statute of limitations has expired, just in case)
I thought of my mother and her insistence that each and every aluminum icicle be hung individually….and then collected before we discarded the tree (to use again next year)
I thought of some of the earliest memories I have of Christmas. It was a magical time. There was laughter, excitement, mystery, and love surrounding those trees – even if they wouldn’t qualify for a front cover of The Best Christmas Trees of the Year Magazines.
I thought of the soldiers who would be spending Christmas away from family and friends. I said a prayer for many I knew of personally. I began praying for the thousands who will not be home for Christmas because of active duty overseas. I remembered many family members who are no longer with us. They had spent Christmases Past on foreign soil while protecting the freedoms we now enjoy.
As the tree began to take shape, I discovered that the sadness had left me and I was enjoying precious memories. Memories of my young children and of our own celebrations around the trees of the past.
Through the years, I’ve set up trees in the house,…
…trees in the church,…
…trees on the beach,…
…and trees outside the camper,…
….I really do enjoy a Christmas tree.
In my research, I discovered one source crediting Martin Luther in the mid 1500’s as being the first person to add lights to the tree at Christmas. Legend tells the story that he was walking outside on a wintry night mentally rehearsing his sermon. Looking up through the branches of an evergreen he saw the stars twinkling and was amazed at the beauty. Wanting his family to see what he had seen, he put a tree in his home and attached candles to recapture what he’d experienced under the stars.
I don’t know if that story is truly the origin of placing lights on a Christmas tree….but I am glad we do. There’s just something about that moment when we flip the switch and the lights glisten throughout the tree.
Again, I hear the voice of my mom in the past…”bury the wires in the tree…don’t let them show…” It’s a moment of sweet memory, and I attempt to bury the wires!
I begin to pull out the ornaments and the memories start afresh. Here’s this one that was on my tree when I was a little girl. And this one, Mom added it to the ribbon of my package when I was four-years-old. Here’s one that my sister sent from Germany to my baby boy on his first Christmas. Oh, and here’s one that my granddaughter made when she was just three. The sweet memories propel me through the next several hours and the tree is suddenly finished. It’s that aha moment of sheer joy. Lights on, ornaments telling the family history, and the satisfaction that once again, the tree is up and ready to be enjoyed.
I sit back and gaze on this, my 65th Christmas tree. There is a beauty about it, but it’s not the real centerpiece of the season. It’s not the brightly wrapped gifts, the stuffed stockings,the aromas coming from the kitchen, nor the carols being sung. It’s so much more than all that. It’s the wonderful understanding that we have gathered once again to celebrate family.
We have allowed everything else to come to a halt, just for a brief time…a time to gather around the Christmas tree and experience the joy of love for each other. Perhaps that is what God felt when He sent His Son as a gift to the world on that very first Christmas. A gift of joy, love, and salvation.
As we gather around the Christmas Tree, I am seeing something much different than the lovely branches, the lights, the candy canes, and the baubles. I’m seeing my favorite tree of all. It’s the faces of my dear family – (all here except our youngest grandson). This is my Christmas Tree.
What are some of your favorite memories of setting up your family tree…or some of your most hilarious attempts at decorating? It’d be a fun story to hear, I’m sure.