Thursday, December 22, 2005

To Tree or Not to Tree?

That is the question. We have found ourselves this year crammed into a 3 bedroom house currently with 12 bodies occupying the space and very little extra room to move. Where would we put a tree here anyway?! But then, how can Christmas go on without a Christmas tree? It somehow wouldn't quite be...Christmas without one.

So we took a family vote and there was a unanimous decision to make the tree work. We picked out a corner of the kitchen which was occupied by our bread-making flour bins but provided the only spot in the house within eyesight of all and out of mischief- making site for the little ones. So the boys headed off to find the tree while the girls and I moved those flour bins and scrubbed the floor.

The tree stand was lost in the fire - I don't even recall seeing it, it may have been one of those unidentified mangled lumps of plastic - so the first stop was Home Depot for a new one. This was also the last stop as they found the "perfect tree" for just $10 right there in the Home Depot tree yard. It is perfect - just the right height and roundness and length of needles but we all had this uneasy feeling inside at the thought of our Christmas tree being plucked off the lot of a department store. That's not how the tradition goes! We're supposed to all bundle up on a cold Sunday afternoon (the 2nd or 3rd Sunday in Advent to be precise), drive way up to the tree farm in the northern part of the county, hop aboard the wagon out to the tree sites and then wander around for a good hour debating the merits and demerits of each specimen until our fingers turn just frosty enough that everyone suddenly gets quite agreeable on a final selection. Then the boys proudly crawl underneath the spreading canopy of bottom needles with Dad, bearing saws and smiles a mile wide. Many hacking attempts later, Dad makes that final cut and we all put mitten to trunk and haul it back to the wagon stop. On our way out, we have one last show as we watch the men put our tree on the shaker machine (the wonders of modern Christmas tree shopping!) and then run it through the netting. Dad makes that last push to the van where it gets dutifully tied to the top of the car and we drive home, the wind whipping through the cracks in the windows which are opened just enough to anchor the tree to something solid within the van.

And then there is the decorating. Dad, of course, has the job of fighting with the lights - there's always that one stray bulb which defies detection and blows the whole string. Three strings of colored lights and string of white lights at the top - with a few carefully placed to sit beneath the skirt of the angel. The angel is special too - we bought that on our honeymoon at a neat Christmas shop in Mt. Snow Vermont. A visit there isn't complete without going out back to pet the two pony-sized Newfoundlands Luke and Hannah. We thought we were being lavish when we blew $20 on that angel, dreaming of having her top our tree for many years to come.

Then the joy of each child pulling out his or her ornaments, one special one collected for each year of their lives. Then the ones given by friends, Sunday School teachers and grandmas over the years. Of course Mom and Dad have many ornaments of their own - ones labeled, "Tad/CCD, 1975" or "Mary, From Scott, 1974". Dad always had to stick his little red knitted stocking off the end of a branch (after he pulled out and hung the plaster drum Aunt Paulette painted for him eons ago) and there was always the argument about whether or not the Star Trek ornaments would be allowed to grace our hallowed evergreen this year.

That was before the fire.

This year there is no angel, no ornaments, no strings of ancient lights.

This year we forged a new tradition. Muffy, with great foresight, had long ago sent a shopping bag full of wrapped surprises. We opened a snow globe which played a tinny version of Joy to The World when wound up and provided the background music for our tree decorating. There was an angel ornament for each of the children to open and hang, a set of felt nativity figures with strings for hanging and an assortment of cookie cutters with Christmas themes (although I'm not sure how the giraffe snuck in there!). She even thought to put in a small creche for under the tree which was unwrapped and lovingly placed there by Betsy. Dad picked out new high-tech lights - these have LED's and a bit of a sharper glow to them. We had managed to collect a few ornaments each over the past months and so our tree isn't completely bare. The fact that is sits in a corner makes the baldness of 3 of its sides bearable. And, after having watched "A Charlie Brown Christmas" no less than 5 times in the past month we sat back and sighed prayers of thanks for our lives, a home to live in and people to share in Christ's love. Dad prayed his blessing prayer over the tree and a pile of jammied children went off to bed. It's not what we *usually* do but it's ours and we're going to make it even when everything seems upside down and backwards. Thank you, Lord for our $10 Home Depot tree and for our Muffy who just understands which gaps need to be filled at exactly the right time.

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