Well Intended / The Christmas tree crash and bits of holidays past
Late Friday night, my Christmas tree fell over. As is often the case with crashes in the middle of the night, my mind couldn't make sense of the sound. I grabbed the dog and ran down the stairs to confront whatever evil or calamity had caused the racket. The sound of shattering ornaments is greater than one might expect. Thankfully, it was only the tree and not world's end. We went back to bed, leaving the mess to the morning.
I've had Christmas tree problems in the past. One year, I couldn't find a tree and got the last branches from a garbage heap at a tree lot in Miami. I stuck them in a cranberry juice bottle and wrapped them with tinsel. Another year, the tree flew off the top of my car. I was fortunate that the trunk stayed affixed to the roof rack, and the rest of the tree was only dragged to the next exit. Had it not, I hate to imagine what might have happened to whoever was behind us.
I tend to uphold holiday traditions with unproductive tenacity. It's as if by arranging the same decorations and lighting the right candles, everything will be okay. This stubborn adherence to customs doesn't craft peace. Every December, I forget the way that the truly relevant, meaningful and loving aspects of the holiday find a way into our hearts regardless of my meddling.
From the start, something about our Christmas tree wasn't settling with me. I've collected glass ornaments since I had my first apartment. I tried to select them to commemorate each year. And so over the years, I've added to the collection with symbols such as a Chinese dancer to remember when I worked in Hong Kong, and a skating couple from when the kids' father and I skated in the afternoons at a skating club near the university housing where we spent that Christmas. We had a shiny rubber duck similar to the one on the invitations for my son's first birthday party, and a little white chapel, a sailboat and a baby carriage and decades of sentimentality in blown glass. There was ballerina from the year I taught ballet, and a train, because that was all my son could think of for his preschool years. Not all the ornaments have special meaning. There was a turkey, Buddha, Babe Ruth and President Taft. One was a glittering sphere with a smiling moon on one side and a lazy sun on the other.
I bought the tree without having it unwrapped. At home, my son and I untangled and checked the lights, wiggled the bulbs and even changed a couple old fuses. My son is 10, and is young enough to have wanted to decorate it right away. But, my daughter, who has just turned 13, focused on her laptop and the friends with whom she was chatting. I'm not proud of the swift grab that took the machine away from her or for making her participate in dangling of ornaments from wires. Nor am I pleased with the speech I might have next delivered. She complied. But both lost interest after the first dozen ornaments.
When we were done, my son looked at it, pleased. To me, it seemed to have commanded the room, thought it smelled divine.
"Next year, we'll get a smaller tree." I thought.
"No, It's beautiful," he said. But it wasn't. It was visually overstimulating and seemed to be growing larger, like the fir in the party scene in "The Nutcracker."
And while the ornament memories were happy, they've accumulated over the years into something dense. Each ornament represents something we've lost. Either time or the process of life has made it so that the recollections are only that. And I longed to celebrate that which we are now and what we might become.
So when the tree crashed to the floor and shattered some ornaments, I was not sure what to make of the loss. I swept them into a box first, thinking I might glue the larger pieces into a wreath, and then threw the box away. I packed up those that had survived unbroken, in fear that whatever had caused the tree to fall once might reoccur. I think the stand was too small.
I baked a batch of gingerbread. There is something soothing about baking. If you follow the recipe, you achieve the desired result. So many things we set about in life don't have clear results. I baked a batch of gingerbread snowflakes, iced them and hung them from the tree branches with ribbon. The lights and gingerbread look perfect. The colors are calming and peaceful. And while we may cherish memories of the past, I am pleased, this Christmas, to welcome the future.