Friday, December 14, 2012

O Christmas tree

It is the center of the holiday decorations, filled with baubles big and small and memories of Christmases past. Even with the wreaths hung outside and the mantle decorated in garland and wintery figurines, it is the Christmas tree that brings the holidays home – somehow, it just doesn’t seem like Christmastime until there is an evergreen in the living room, its sweet piney scent permeating the house, tiny lights twinkling from its full branches through the darkest days of winter.

When I was a little girl my family would, some Decembers, tramp into the woods at the edge of our back yard and cut a “Charlie Brown” tree to trim. Being outside in the quiet woods, the chilly air turning cheeks and noses rosy, added to the joy of bringing home the Christmas tree. Knowing the specific spot in our little piece of forest from which the tree came made it a bit more special.

In college, a several hours drive from home, I set up a tiny plastic tabletop tree in my dorm room, decorating it with small ornaments. That little tree was a reminder that soon I’d be at home, with all its comforts and a real Christmas tree adorned with familiar ornaments.

Since then, I’ve trimmed trees from gas station or grocery store stands, or cut with a permit from National Forest land, or – lately – picked from a local tree farmWhat once was a simple annual selection has turned into a family affair, as our three young children run gleefully from fir tree to fir tree, shouting, “This one is perfect. Ooh, look at this one!” until we settle on a tree just the right height and shape.

My most memorable Christmas tree was the one I found at the edge of an isolated back road in Colorado, during a snow storm, with some friends I’d run into after work. We took a detour on the way home, and one of the friends produced an old saw from the back of his beater truck before we waded through deep, powdery snow to lop off the section of evergreen sticking above the snowline. We returned to town in the winter dark of late evening and carried the tall, scraggly tree to the corner of the living room. My roommates humored me, and the tree was lit and decorated and remained a part of our household through the holidays. It was beautiful.

Through the years I have carted from place to place a box of ornaments gathered, one at a time, over my 39 Christmases. My husband has a similar collection. Our tree is not trimmed in some elaborate color theme or similarly-styled ornaments. Instead, we fill it with the decorations from our childhoods and with those now garnered each Christmas by our own children, who clamor to find and hang their own special ornaments.

Our tree holds many reminders of Christmases past. There is the small green and red baby boot from my first Christmas, a toy soldier from my husband’s boyhood, and the Old Man of the Mountain ornaments given to us the year New Hampshire’s famed profile collapsed. My favorite ornaments are the three circles of plaster hung by silky red and green ribbon. Into each is pressed one precious imprint of my children’s infant hands.

Christmas present fades quickly, the holiday racing toward us, then gone in a flash of happy excitement and crumpled wrapping paper. But the Christmas spirit lingers as long as the tree remains in its stand in the living room, the lights twinkling until it’s time to pack the ornaments away for Christmas future.

This essay appears in the December 14 edition of the Record-Littleton. 

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