My first Christmas as a new wife, I put up a small Christmas tree. I remember being so excited to have our own little Christmas tree even though it was about 3 feet tall. I went to the local discount store and bought some ornaments that I could crossstitch. I was in Pennsylvania, and we wouldn’t be traveling home that Christmas. I so wanted to have a white Christmas, and we did. I was 23 and married 3 months. All I knew to do was to follow Momma’s example. I did the same things she did. I sent out Christmas cards, put up a small tree and cooked gumbo for Christmas Eve. It was my first attempt at creating Christmas cheer.
As time went on, I got more comfortable with my own style. My trees got bigger, and gradually I purchased ornaments that I liked to fill the tree. I always loved the sparkly ones, and I never went for a themed tree. I liked a real tree even though it required more effort. I purchased a lovely quilted tree skirt from Lands’ End and bought a cast iron tree stand that I still have. Neither one of my spouses really liked Christmas, so I always did all of the decorating and cooking. Sporadically, we’d go to Louisiana for Christmas, and, for those years, we often didn’t put up a tree. It was just too depressing to take it down before we left and too much work and worry to leave it and take it down after we returned. Gift-giving was always small as we only had to buy for each other.
The first year John and I had a house, I caught the Southern Living bug. They had an idea to take greenery in the yard and spray paint it gold. I trimmed branches and berries from our holly trees and the magnolia tree which grew on the front of our house. I spray-painted some of them fully gold and others just a touch. I placed them on tables, on the mantle of our fireplace and anywhere I could lay them. I added candles and hung some mistletoe. We put up a real tree, and our new house looked like a beautiful natural Christmas scene from the pages of a magazine.
I’m not a very good gift-wrapper, and I’ve tried different things to spice up my unnatural talent. One year I saved all of the color comics from the paper and wrapped presents in them. Snoopy and Blondie added a special smiled to every gift. Another year, I wrapped everything in brown paper and then added glitter and construction paper cutouts. I had fun with that one even though I’m not usually very crafty. Other years, I’ve had everything professionally done. When gift bags came in vogue, I was very, very happy!
My second husband did not like Christmas. The year we dated he was all over it. We went to a tree farm in Michigan and cut our own tree. We decorated it together, and he bought me a beautiful pair of diamond stud earrings which he couldn’t wait to give me until Christmas. I got them 4 days ahead of time. But, after we were married, he didn’t want to exchange gifts, and he definitely did not want to fool with a tree. I started to get disillusioned with the whole thing at that point. I never really felt very skilled at creating Christmas, and with a spouse that wasn’t into it anyway, I just stopped wanting to do it.
The first year after my second divorce, I told my friend Michael I wasn’t going to get a tree. It would be too depressing, and I’d have to fool with it by myself. “Oh, yes you are going to get a tree,” he forcefully told me. He took me out to the tree market where the girls scouts sold trees in Memphis. I picked one out, and he helped me get it into my car and drag it up my stairs into my one bedroom second-story flat. I put up the tree and decorated it myself, crying after pulling out almost every ornament I had packed away. I had pictures of my stepkids who were technically no longer my stepkids. A picture ornament of my dog Arf who had died was tucked away in the box. I hung the First Christmas ornaments that Rick and I had purchased the year we were dating when he was so into Christmas. My grandmother’s handmade ornaments were still usable, and I thought of her and her big beautiful Christmas tree that seemed to take up half the room. She was gone, too. The decorating was a trip down memory lane, and I cried more than I smiled. But, with each ornament I put up on the tree, I let myself feel how loved I had been and how many people had been part of my life. I put every ornament I had on that tree no matter what memories they brought up. It was a tree that was going to celebrate ALL of my life.
When I got done decorating the tree, I looked at it, and it was so very beautiful. I put the Christmas tree skirt underneath it, and swept up the extra pine needles off the wooden floor of my 1912 flat. I turned on the Christmas lights and and a Christmas music mix of Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley and Kenny G. The lights twinkled and sparkled amid the ornaments that I’d collected over the years. I turned out the lights in my living room, and I made a pallet on the floor. I laid there with my two kitties, Nala and Simba, and I gazed at the tree. I was so happy that I put that tree up. It was symbolic of the progression of my life and my hope that my life would go on. That year, I was practicing yoga a lot, and I’d get up in the mornings and practice yoga by the light of the tree. If I ever had a favorite tree, it was this one…. the one that was mine alone.
Since that Christmas, I’ve only put up a tree a few times. I travel more at Christmas since I’ve been single. It’s just not worth it to mess with a tree, and I want a real tree. This year, I just don’t have the space for it, although if I really wanted it, I’m sure I would have created space. My Christmas ornaments are packed away in a big blue plastic box that was stored in my house in Memphis. I enjoy other trees …. in restaurants … at my parents’ house …. at my friend’s homes. They are impersonal but beautiful. I love the sparkle and shine of Christmas tree lights and glittery ornaments of red, silver and gold. I’m not particularly fond of themed trees. I like the old-fashioned ones with ornaments collected year after year, on vacations and special occasions. I like to ask people about this ornament and that one so I get a picture of the special times in their lives.
If I’m honest, I missed having a tree this year. It seems like I’m saying that I’m not important enough to have a tree because I don’t have a family to gather around it, and I know I don’t believe that. I know that, if I had a significant other, I would want to do it. So, I have to ask why is it too much trouble for just me? Maybe because someone else could share in the work of it. Maybe it would be more fun to decorate it with someone else and add their special touch to it. Maybe they’d have an ornament or two to add to symbolize their presence in my world. I think one would look pretty over in that front corner of my house by the window. I could move that blue chair out of the way to make room. I could take out my box of ornaments and see the evidence of a life well lived again …. one ornament at a time. I’d like to turn the lights out and watch the tree glitter and shine while I have some eggnog and maybe play some Elvis Presley or Kenny G Christmas music. I could practice yoga again by the Christmas lights. I think I deserve that. Michael, will you remind me of this blog next Christmas? Will you tell me again, “Yes, you are going to put a tree up.” Sometimes I forget that it’s not just a tree.