You should have seen it, the Christmas tree my family put up every year. When we were still all together, all eight of us. Before time made us pay our debts. Before Mom passed away 10 years ago. Long before Dad passed away in May.
It was nothing to look at in pieces in its box, but our fake Scotch pine Christmas tree made an amazing transformation in a matter of hours. Some weeks before Christmas the six of us siblings witnessed the tree become a bare-branched piece of greenery in our living room, space having been carefully cleared out to allow for the 6-foot pine’s wide grasp of its lower branches.
And we, like the children we were, marveled in awe at how spectacular our tree became as it was constructed, limb by limb, garland ring by garland ring, held upright by a simple red and green metal tree stand. Ornaments of all sizes, shapes and colors, mostly painted metal and glass, spoke of decades gone by, an accumulation of Christmases past when colors faded differently, reluctantly. The string of lights held bulbs painted orange, green, blue and red, bulbs the size of those used in plastic decorative candles.
As perennial as the seasonal snow outside was the tinsel with which we adorned our tree. The strands sparkled and reflected the gleaming lights. It was all light, but it was also somehow unobtrusive, the glow of warmth in a season of cold, a colorful radiance in a room designed to provide just the right amount of shadowy camouflage for spectacular surprises and magical midnight visitors.
During the coming weeks, gifts would appear under the tree to the delight of each of us kids. But there were always – always – several more to appear out of nowhere sometime after we were ushered to our beds where we pretended to sleep, whispering to each other in bedrooms lit only by the dark orange glow of the electric Christmas candles in the windows.
And sometime after midnight we were called to see what had transpired during our absence. And we were allowed to rip open the carefully-wrapped presents, occasionally admiring the beautiful barriers to our waiting surprises.
When it comes down to it, it was all magic to me. It still is.
My parents might not be here physically, but they are still a part of the season for me. So are my brothers and sisters, though we are scattered from South Carolina to Arizona. Each year, as Becca and I put up the tree and decorate our house, I cannot help but think of the Christmases of my childhood.
That’s the magic of good memories.
Some say we must learn to put away the things of our youth. I believe we must hold tight to the things we cherish because sometimes those are the things that get us through those toll booths of life.
You should have seen it.