Here we are again, Christmas time. I used to say this was my favorite time of year, and I suppose to a degree it still is, but it certainly has changed in meaning over the years. When I was a little kid, I used to look forward to putting up our Christmas tree more than anything else. The whole family would go out to the farm then eagerly and impatiently wait around while Mom picked out the one that didn’t have any huge holes or general lopsidedness. Dad would cut it down, then he and I would hall it back to our little Chevy blazer where it would be strapped on top for the awkward ride home. Once there he’d bolt the stand on so that it was just perfect, and we’d haul it inside and start decorating. I can still smell those pine needles and see my three foot-self standing in the middle of our den looking up at it. It seemed to come to life as Mom strung it with lights, and then one-by-one we would add ornaments and decorations, careful to make sure they were perfectly and evenly spaced. Meanwhile Dad was breaking into the eggnog, and by then someone had cued up Bing Crosby singing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Finally the angel would emerge from the box, and Mom would have to use a ladder to place or on top.
I’d look at the completed tree, with all the colorful lights and ornaments, and it was like looking into a dreamland. The lights reflected off the ceiling in all sorts of crazy patterns. Some blinked, others faded. Sometimes I’d make a pallet on the floor and while others were watching TV I’d just stare at it for hours. I’d imagine it filling up with presents beneath, then lying in bed sleepless on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting the moment when we could run downstairs through the cold morning air, still in pajamas, to see what Santa had brought. Would I finally get that new, must-have He-man or G.I. Joe toy I’d been wanting? Or better yet, how about a new bike to cruise around the neighborhood and show off to my friends?
As I got a little older I learned that Christmas was a little less about Rudolph and a little more about Silent Night. Not so much about eggnog, but about the person pouring it. A little less G.I. Joe, and a little more joy from seeing what everyone else got. As time went on, the less structured and more difficult it got, seemingly less than the perfect version I remembered from the old days. Parent split up and re-married, new siblings were born and we were spread across states, eventually siblings went off to college and got married themselves, and the general chaos around life seemed to escalate year after year. The simplicity of a childhood Christmas seemed to fade away a little more each year.
Now, I actually have to stop and ask myself if I want to go to the trouble of even putting a tree up. After all, I do live alone, so it would be there for little more than my own personal enjoyment. But could I really enjoy it without family around, without someone important to share it with, without children of my own?
And still for some reason, I find myself searching, asking…is there a void in my heart where Christmas used to live? If so, what can fill it? Will I continue to long for those pure childhood Christmases? Is there some fundamental version of Christmas waiting in the future that will surpass everything I think I already know? I don’t know. But what I do know is that there is no sense in waiting for it to come, this utopia for my emotions. I am surrounded by family, friends, and caring people in a way that I know many people would give anything to have. Christmas is not about tomorrow, and although in many ways it is about the past…about what Christ gave, about family memories…more than anything it’s about now. So I’m dedicating this Christmas to all of you. For each and every person who is a part of my life, I am thankful. This year, I will put up a Christmas tree, and every time I look at it I will think about the true decorations, lights, and angels in my life.
What were some of your favorite Christmas memories and traditions as a child? How are they different now?