I could hardly wait for the Professor to leave to attend this year’s downtown Veteran’s Day Parade last Saturday. He likes to keep things the way we usually do them and would have tried to shame me into waiting until after Thanksgiving to put up a Christmas tree. But I was having none of that. By the time he got home, all our decorations and the one tree we had were out and organized. But I painted him a picture of more, and he relaxed his objections. I don’t think the two of us are alone in craving some holiday spirit right now.
Many of us want to return to a more gracious world, if only for a season. Everything seems to be going off the rails. And with significant local and national upheaval possible in the wake of tomorrow’s election, aren’t we craving a touch of the traditional, of our not-too-distant memories? A little ho-ho-ho, some Silent Night?
This is my unrepentant confession: Saturday morning – November the fifth – I put up not one, not two, but three Christmas trees because no little bit of holiday cheer would do. I needed a big supersized infusion of joy to counter an anticipated election-night hangover. Something to propel me past the ugliness of tomorrow and on into the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving and don’t intend to pass it by, but Christmas magic, an early dose of warmth, wonder and the Holy, was calling my name.
I put the trees up Saturday so that no matter how tomorrow turns out, I remember there’s more to the story than pain. They’re a testimony. A memorial to what’s past and what’s coming: Christmas. A symbol of hope to help me get past elections, wars, and rumors of wars.
First, to those of you who can’t get over my having put up three trees – I’m sorry (not sorry). One tree was stored under the stairs and the other two came from Walmart: the little black one cost $49, and a 9-foot flocked showstopper for the living room, $250. I had most of the decorations already. So in terms of cost, I didn’t come close to being excessive.
Besides, cost is beside the point. The point of the three trees is expressing joy (and thankfulness) in different ways. It’s about the hope they communicate through the stories they tell. Each is a unique expression of hope in these perilous days. How so?
Well, take the tree I already had. It’s a six foot flocked beauty (also originally from Walmart) that now sits in the window of the front bedroom, peering out at the street from under twinkly-warm white outside lights. The G-kids and I decorated it Saturday. We used my mother’s decorations (which I inherited after she passed).
We didn’t always get along in life, but looking at the tree I have a hard time remembering that. Rosemary loved beauty. No time was more sacred to her than Christmas Eve with her family around the table. She cooked, decorated, and wrapped gifts for days in preparation. That night there were to be no bad memories, no hard conversations. She wanted candle-lit magic and so we had it.
When I look at the tree in our front bedroom it reminds me of the warm feelings she orchestrated at Christmas. Those feelings are reflected in the tree and it tells me a story that love lives here regardless of a family’s past differences. That there’s warmth and peace and yes, joy, here in our home.
Outside are no garish candidate signs, only a small sign that says, Give Thanks. The tree reminds me that despite the way things look, all is not as it seems. Christmas is coming, a time when most of us remember our better selves.
Upstairs in the bonus room is our new black Christmas tree. It’s as nontraditional as it was the year I bought and decorated another just like it to please the Professor after his back surgery. Stenosis and a compressed disk insisted he undergo surgery in the first week of December. Afterward, he couldn’t do anything for himself and was medicated-like-a-Zombie through New Year’s Day.
Unsure he would make it through the operation alive, he wanted me to put up a tree for him to see when he got home. I said I wouldn’t, knowing it would be hard for me to care for him and put up, take down, and put a tree away in the attic by myself. He pleaded. I refused.
But on a break from his hospital room one day, I wandered in to Walmart just to see the trees and there it was. A small, very inexpensive black Christmas Tree. I took it home that night and decorated it with bright greens, purples, pinks, and turquoises. When he came home he was undone, as much by my granting his wish as he was by the beauty of that little tree. The story it told him was that he was loved. That he made it through a scary surgery and he had a future and a hope.
So his new black tree (a $49 tree doesn’t’ last forever) is upstairs right next to the TV. Every time he goes up to watch football (by himself – I don’t love him that much) he feels joy again. He remembers a Christmas a few years ago that he might not have experienced, but did. And he remembers my part in it.
The third tree is my most meaningful. Standing 9′ tall, it occupies a central point in our living room. This tree reminds me of sacred things, not like Rosemary’s Christmas Eves, but of cathedrals and the Hallelujah Chorus, of snow-covered peaks, thick forests, and swift, clear streams. It’s inspirational not for the way we’ve decorated it or for the place it occupies, but for the majesty it invokes.
This tree speaks to the wonder of Christmas. That the Creator of the universe made a little God-Child to be born in a stable. That the Child grew and lived and demonstrated love, reverence, holiness, kindness, and compassion to a world in need of all of that. The very qualities that are missing from the world today. Looking at this tree reminds me of my better self. Of my responsibility to the Child and others.
I can’t look at this tree (or any of the three) and ignore the things I’ve learned and know to be true: the wisdom of the Golden Rule, for one. I can’t look at this tree while contemplating hatred for others no matter their political persuasion or lifestyle. I can’t look at it without thinking about others: that there are many who don’t have food to eat or warm clothes to wear. And that I have the capacity to change that if I will.
I can’t look at these three without remembering lovely things. Tomorrow may get ugly, but I believe in something bigger than Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and elections. Christmas is coming. And with it, hope and joy. So while the world focuses on ugly things, I’ll keep looking for beauty, thank you.
And you? Well, try putting up a few trees with different stories. Because I’m wishing you a very Merry Post-election World. And believing that if enough of us insist, it can happen.