Jen’s World: Christmas tree keeps holiday burning bright

January 10, 2019

Our Christmas tree is still up.

I keep thinking I’m going to take it down. Put the ornaments back in the box. Unwind the silver garland. Step on my tiptoes to remove the star.

But then I turn off all the lights before going to bed, and the tree glows, and the cat snuggles a little deeper into the velvety tree skirt, and life feels a little cozier. So I lean against the wall, my arms folded in front of me, my family snug in their beds, and I stare at that tree and think: One more day.

Never mind that the needles are beginning to dry and fall on the floor. That the branches hang just a little lower with each passing hour. That the skirt is now little more than a glorified cat bed.

Just one more day, I think. And then the next evening comes and the process starts anew.

I have friends who tear down their tree as soon as Christmas is over. Their families wake up on Dec. 26 to a pristine living room without a needle or stray piece of tinsel in sight.

But I love our tree. It’s not a showpiece. It’s not decorated in carefully curated themes or color palettes. It’s a “memory tree.” There’s a story for every ornament.

There are the homemade construction paper ornaments from the year we moved into our “new” house 15 years ago and couldn’t find the box with our decorations. They’re the curling collection of handprints and snowmen and stars decorated with glue and glitter and finger paints.

There’s Baby’s First Christmas 1999. And Baby’s First Christmas 2002.

The green fabric bell made by Grandma Perro. The delicate snowman I won in a cutthroat office gift exchange in 1998. The wooden bear with a green scarf that says “Jenny 1985.”

Each year, I relive the origin of each ornament — and make my family listen to the stories.

This year, we waited to decorate the tree until Christian returned from college for his winter break. When the time finally arrived, I called everyone together and began opening the boxes of ornaments.

It doesn’t matter how many years we’ve done this. I always expect this to be a magical experience.

I say things like: “Ohhh, here’s the clay star you made in kindergarten, Bergen!” And: “Oh, Christian! It’s the Clifford ornament you got at Bethany Nursery School!”

And then I wait for the oohs, and ahhhs, and general Hallmark movie-like responses of nostalgia and joy.

But they never come.

Instead, my family grabs ornaments as fast as I can get them out of the box, and throws them on the tree without any sentimentality whatsoever. A typical exchange:

THEM: “Why did you keep this one? It’s so bad!”

ME: “It’s not! You made that when you were 4!”

THEM: “Yeah, I can tell.”

ME: “It’s sweet.”

THEM: “It’s lopsided, and I spelled my name wrong. I actually spelled my NAME wrong.”

ME: “I love it.”

And then five minutes goes by and I see that my older son has hung all of the ornaments with his photo or name on them at the top of the tree around the star to be funny. And my younger son has hung his on the lowest possible branches so they’re practically touching the floor.

And I say, “Spread them out!” and “Put some on the back, too!” and “Remember this one…?”

But nobody’s listening.

And then there I am, left alone to add the last ornaments to the tree: The candy cane made out of plastic beads. The silver sphere with five little snowmen on it in the shape of my niece’s painted fingers. The penguin on an ice cube from my fourth-grade teacher.

And I look up and see Christian’s giant red “C” hanging from the top of the star and I can’t even reach it to move it down.

But at night, when everyone’s tucked in bed and it’s quiet and dark, the tree glows with the light and warmth of 100 imperfect ornaments that mean something to me. And that will someday mean something to them.

That’s about as perfect and magical as it gets.

And I’m not ready to put it away. Not yet.

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