To some people, a Christmas tree is just a tree.
It’s something we put up once a year for 25 days or so. We slap some lights on it and hang pretty ornaments off the branches. Some of those ornaments are shiny and fragile; can never be touched. Others are special and unique– homemade ornaments that flood your emotions when you unwrap them every year. For me, I experience all of these feelings when it comes to Christmas time, but I didn’t always appreciate Christmas the way I do now.
When I was a little girl, my dad would take me to this huge Christmas shop to browse the aisles. This place had everything Christmas: lights, blow-up Santas and Frosty, and any type of decoration you could want. Every year we would go and pick something out to add to my dad’s collection of outside decorations. Some years we left the store empty-handed; my dad would tell me he didn’t see anything he liked or that we would come back another time, but I knew it was because my parents were short on cash. It wouldn’t matter if we left with a five dollar string of lights or nothing at all; I was awed by the magic that was Christmas Land.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, like clock-work, we would begin to set up our yard with those lights and blow-up decorations. I felt so special handing my dad the miles and miles of light-strings, and it was like a Clark Griswold moment when it was all finished (minus the failed attempts of power). My dad’s smile was brighter than any of those Christmas lights combined. And then there was the Christmas tree. As I got older, I got annoyed with helping decorate the tree. It just wasn’t something that I enjoyed because as an angsty teenager, I didn’t want to waste time decorating a silly tree. I would grumble my way through the process, but somewhere in between my cruddy attitude and actually enjoying looking at all the ornaments, I noticed how my father enjoyed the process of putting up our Christmas tree.
I can still remember how my dad would go through each ornament and would study it before handing it to me to place on our tree. We mainly had homemade ornaments collected throughout the years from my sister and I. There were a lot of “My First Christmas”, popsicle-stick trees with way too much glitter, and other messy but very meaningful ones that my dad observed and studied very intently. I had no clue why he cared so much about these things until now.
Now that I’m older and have children of my own, I can understand the feelings behind a Christmas tree and those ornaments. I guess it’s a feeling that you have to wait for; something you won’t appreciate until you’re older and a little wiser. To a child, a Christmas tree is a bright seven-foot wonder; the ornaments are shiny and pretty. A child has no sense as to what those ornaments really mean, where that ornament was purchased at or who it belonged to. It’s something not appreciated for many years to come.
That was me. I had no appreciation for any of it. I thought they were pretty, some were cute, but to me, they were just dangly objects hung on tree branches. I had to grow up a bit and have a family of my own to appreciate the fragility of not just the ornaments, but of life.
This past weekend, my family and I decorated our Christmas tree. I have two small children now and have collected a few of those special ornaments throughout the year– a few “My First Christmas” that announce the pride of my two baby boys, along with some messy over-glittered popsicle stick trees and tiny handprints made to look like a Santa Claus. My boys eagerly placed plastic and toddler-safe ornaments on the tree while my husband and I took care of the more special ones. That is when I caught myself holding those ornaments a little longer while feeling sentimental– how did we get to another year already? Then I came across one that is in its own little jewelry box by itself. I know which one it is so I had to prepare myself.
I open the little white box and a heart-shaped ornament with a picture of my husband and I stared back at me with the words “Our First Christmas”. Like the others so dear to my heart, I hold this one a little longer and study it before placing it on the tree. It’s very meaningful to me. It was from my dad.
My dad passed away three years ago and while it never gets easier, it’s really hard around this time of year. All of those memories flood back to me when I was a child: I remember going to that Christmas Land with him years ago and setting up all of those decorations; I remember our Christmas tree when I was a child, multi-colored lights with an over-abundance of various ornaments that left no empty space available; I remember my dad’s face during it all. His smile forever ingrained in my heart. This is why Christmas means so much to me. It’s not about the presents or the excuse to eat delicious food. It’s about the memories. It’s about the history of that Christmas tree and those ornaments. It’s about remembering loved ones that are no longer with us, but to feel at peace knowing they are celebrating their own Christmas, somewhere.
I’ve come to learn something, year after year at Christmas-time, and it’s this: like those precious ornaments, life is just as fragile, if not more. So hold on tight to the people you love most before they become a memory. And admire the beauty in all things….like a Christmas tree.
Originally published on For Every Mom