Last week, we went to the Follen lot and – as we always do – purchased our tree. I was excited to put it up and recognized that on December 16, we were already participating in this ritual later than many folks. When I was a kid, I used to go to a field near our house outside of New Haven, CT with my parents. We would walk around in the cold and fading light for what felt like hours and finally my mother would identify a tree she deemed acceptable. She like Blue Spruce trees. I hated them, because they were BLUE – Christmas Trees aren’t supposed to be blue, for heaven’s sake!! – and I was always glad if I could talk her into a Frasier Fir or some kind of hemlock…much more Christmasey, I thought.
I loved decorating the tree – then and now – because I am able to revisit parts of my life, and now, my family’s life, as I open the paper surrounding those ornaments. I know some people have showy trees that are themed, or color-coordinated…or they may have multiple sets of ornaments to change up what’s on the tree. Not us: our trees are, instead, emblematic of our lives – and I like it that way.
The angel that sits on the top of the tree was part of my first Christmas tree. She is tattered a bit sad…but I love her and my husband knows that she must be there…and so she is. Up until last year, there were two ornaments from my mother’s first Christmas tree (1918) but last year they finally shattered, so they live in my memory. There, hanging up, is the sleigh that my husband painted with Abby’s name on it for her first Christmas, 24 years ago. The china angel bells that my mother treasured are there, and they tinkle as the tree is brushed. Abby’s Minnie Mouse binky is there…the one that we finally convinced her to give up when she was 3…on a gold ribbon, and right next to it, the phony drivers license from Ohio that she purchased as a college freshman at Tulane University in New Orleans, her entry card into the bars.
There is our daughter Emily’s ornament from her long-ago friend Stephanie, “Best Friends Forever,” the musical instruments that were Ben’s first wife’s, the Plaster of Parish ornaments that Abby and I painted to honor our two cats, Pippin and Macintosh, and the handmade decorations that both our girls made at various church Christmas Craft Fairs. There are the terra cotta ornaments made by Navajo craftspeople, the glass flaming chalice ornament hanging high up on the tree, and the packet of Wild Mountain Thyme on a purple ribbon, given to Ben at the memorial service of Jack Langstaff, founder of Revels and a major influence on Ben’s life.
Christmas trees can be religious, pagan, or emblematic of other parts of our life. Charles and Eliza Follen had a good idea in introducing them to the people of East Lexington a century and a half ago: bringing those trees inside, lighting them, and decorating them brings life to a room and in this case, shares our life with our family and friends. Warmed by these memories, we celebrate together. May it be so with you and with yours, in this holiday season!
Interim Director of Religious Education