There is something new in the (Rice)-Oeschger household and it isn’t a new seasonal soy candle that smells like pine, cinnamon, or pie or something called “sparkle” that is a mix of all these scents. We have a new tree. And here is the
special part: it is a real tree. ” It’s a Fraser Fir,” I have been telling everyone I know, with the same joy I might get from saying “I found a $50 bill in my pocket!” I have never experienced the latter, but I am that excited and surprised by our wonderful tree and what it means to me. This is my 38th Christmas and this lovely, imperfect, non-pre-lit tree, is my very first. My first real living tree. We have a couple in the yard but this one is inside.
Oh, I’ve had plenty of trees. I’ve assisted in the pulling and lugging of many a fake-tree box down the stairs. I have helped sort color coded tree parts since my youth, masterfully ignoring muffled curse words and moving my handmade ornaments to the front of our artificial conifer (my brother moved them daily). If there wasn’t attic dust or insulation pieces in the upstairs hallway then there really wasn’t an official beginning to the season. My father always put the music on before the ritual commenced. First albums, then tapes, then CD’s by the time I got to college. Then he set to constructing a tree shape before untangling (un-mangling) a mass of uncooperative lights with a personal vendetta against him. My mother sat transfixed with silver Jacobson’s boxes filled with ornaments and unwrapped each one like the unearthing of a precious artifact from a long-lost and infinitely fascinating civilization: The Rice Family. Each a story, each a treasure. I did not appreciate this ritual at the time of course. I didn’t have much history. Only in her reflection could I even fathom this kind of loving attention for reminiscing.
Humor always rescued us from this generation gap of which I was typically the target. My horribly unfinished (yet awesome) styrofoam-glue-ball creations eclipsed by my brother’s perfectly symmetrical and completed Christmas ornaments (Cub Scout den mother pet). I love my brother despite all of the poking-fun. We spent our Christmas Eves waiting up with excitement together,
wondering if the lights in the sky were a sleigh or from the planes going and to and fro the airport a few miles away. We bumped down the steps on our tooshes with joy on Christmas morning showing sincere enthusiasm for each other’s gifts and new toys. Four years my senior, my sweet brother never even hinted that Santa had a great deal of help from my parents. It may have been that my mother threatened his life (so I’ve been told), but what is most admirable I think, is his restraint in not ridiculing me when I finally understood. I was 12. T-W-E-L-V-E. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised I had no idea. I had known about reproduction and copulation for three years at this point. Sex before Santa.
Back to trees. My first tree as an adult was discovered in the basement of our first house. We bought a home just before our wedding that had been a rental property and we discovered all sorts of treasures, like underwear, trash, broken class, and an artificial tree. We purchased the house in November of ’98 and
used what was left of our meager money pile to purchase house cleaning supplies, paint and large trash bags. We spent Christmas at our parent’s homes that year traveling together and planning our upcoming Wedding in January while spending the rest of the year figuring out how to be married. Lesson #1 – Do not bring a new pet home without first consulting new spouse. Lesson #1 is still thriving at 13 and presently upstairs under the nightstand sleeping by the heat vent hiding from Lesson #312 – Christmas puppy 20o9.
What I want to share at last is the memory of how I felt my first Christmas as a married person, as a home owner, working professional and custodian of our very own artificial Christmas tree. We had built a home and that tree was a symbol of independence, our new marriage ( sparse, few ornaments ), hope and spirit. While I didn’t grow up with the same Christmas traditions as my husband: snowy Vermont, treks in the snow to cut down a tree, Dickensian-like-Grandma Moses village complete with Colonial trimmings, costumes and a candlelight service at the historic Old Bennington First Church beside the gravesite of Robert Frost. I’ll stop here. I wouldn’t trade my happy suburban, 70’s decor, somewhat-casual-folksy Lutheran-esque shag carpeted memories of being slightly confused about who Jesus was and how he knew Santa for anything. It is a part of my story and now parts of this story are unfolding in me. Like in the way I wrap and unwrap each ornament like old friends and how my traditions are now mingled with my husbands in the creation of something so precious, so unique I had no idea until mine was over: childhood.
Sometimes life can feel like an artificial tree. We have the choice to notice this. We can notice how we decorate it until it’s really quite lovely and close to the real thing. And then there are times when we recognize the opportunity to start fresh. The holidays remind us of how often this freshness is available to us. Always. The Evergreen, the Fraser Fir, the Blue Spruce, Holly, all reminders of fresh new life in the darkest of nights, the coldest of days and the bleakest of outlooks.
May the time leading up to your holiday tradition be rife with beauty and greet you with the arms of joy, the belly of enthusiasm and the heart of hope. May we have peace, may you have peace, may you know peace, may you share peace. Peace on Earth.