Last Saturday night, Ben and I put up our Christmas tree. We got it – as always – from Follen’s lot.
This was the first year that our younger daughter, Abby, wasn’t with us for this ritual. (She’s arriving home from New Orleans on December 23- way too late to be putting up the tree in my book!) So I walked onto the lot, picked out the first tree I saw (which looked pretty good, I thought) and since Ben agreed, off we went!
After the fresh cut in the base, the testing and draping of the lights, the wiring of the tree to the wall (to protect against foster cats in our house who might try climbing the tree) we were ready for decoration. Usually this is the point where Ben pours himself and eggnog and sits back – but without Abby, he wasn’t going to leave the job to me. So all the ornaments were unpacked and laid on a card table: breakables on the upper half of the tree, soft non-breakables on the lower half, so our grand-nephew Gabe, nearly 4 years old, could freely explore the ornaments.
While some folks have ‘designer’ trees, all white or blue or red bows, ours are markers of our life in review. The ornaments from 1918 that my mother said were on her first tree broke last year. But the angel that goes on the top of the tree each year was on my first Christmas tree. She’s had a wardrobe change a few times, and she’s looking a bit tired, but it’s tradition, so there she sits, looking down on us. I smile when I see her, my familiar old friend.
The decorations are all pieces of our life: our older daughter Emily’s ornament, “Friends,” from a long-gone pal; the packet of Wild Mountain Thyme Ben received at Revels founder Jack Langstaff’s memorial service; the terra cotta flaming chalice ornaments made by First Nation communities in New Mexico which I bought when I worked for the UUA. There are plaster of Paris ornaments Abby and I embellished with gold paints; a paper bird Emily made when she was into origami; the three ornaments of Anne Boleyn, the Tower of London, and the Queen’s Crown that I bought when I visited London some years ago. And there, too, were markers of Abby’s life: the little wooden sled with her name and birth year on it, made by Ben and painted gold and red; the last binky she had, with Minnie Mouse on it, hanging off a gold ribbon to celebrate the year she finally let go of that security comfort; and (other end of the growing up spectrum) the phony Ohio driver’s license, punched and hanging off a ribbon, that she got as soon as she started to attend New Orleans’ Tulane University – laissez les bon temps roulez (let the good times roll) as they say in the Big Easy!
We hung up my mother’s treasured china angel bells – the ones that I was never allowed to touch as a child; Ben’s first wife’s musical instrument ornaments – a marker of her life in music; the wooden “peace” carved ornament; the little red birds we love. There were the giant pine cones we gathered on a visit to Reno, NV; the candles we bought in a craft shop in some small town in New Hampshire, the bear that used to hang on my tree when I was four.
These are the things that mark our lives…these bits that we save and wrap in tissue and pull out, year after year, to place lovingly on this pagan symbol of life, rising green to start again as the earth slowly rotates and tilts back toward the sun.
May these short days be warmed by fires in your hearth and your heart, and your lives fed by the beauties of the season. And above all, may there be love.
Interim Director of Religious Education