December 24, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past

A friend wrote recently, "Every year I debate whether or not to get a Christmas tree. But I never regret putting one up." It is something I have often said about going out on a run. I am rarely, "Woohoo, let's do this thing," but again, I never regret it.

I go through a similar battle to my friend each year with the Christmas tree. I wrote a bit about it a few years ago, and in some ways that feeling remains. When you live by yourself, it strangely seems like a wasted effort to put up a tree. Like any part of the season, or much of anything really, activities seem to grow in meaning by more than a simple factor of two when shared. Is it really worth going through the effort to get a tree, drag it upstairs, get the boxes out of storage and decorate for just you?


Yet I still debated again this year. I wasn't going to be able to make it happen until the 14th, so it seemed almost doubly silly to do it that late in the season. But I did, and once again, I do not regret the effort.

Every tree tells a story, and each ornament is a passage. In 2008 when things were beginning to come apart at the seams, I walked around my tree and wrote about what some of the ornaments meant (The Twelve Ornaments of Christmas). Everyone's tree has its own family history on display, but unless you know the story behind them, they are mostly just shiny baubles. If you were to listen to the stories told by your host, you would realize that the tree is more than a decoration, and it is really a telling of their lives, and of Christmases past. I was trying to share some of those stories, but I was also trying to anchor myself in family and tradition when I felt it slipping away.

You unpack these story totems but just once a year, so each time you see them, your brain rewrites the connection. There are a few that are a small surprise as the memory of where they came from fades. Some ornaments are second or third string, and some years don't make the cut, while others you could never forget and always get a special place on the tree. Then there are a few that don't come out of the box because their memory isn't what it used to be.

I obviously have ornaments that were from when I was married. Most of them come out each year, but there are certain ones that have remained tucked away. They are the ones with pictures or our names on them as a couple. Their meaning had changed significantly, and I just couldn't bring myself to put them on the tree. I also have more recent picture ornaments from Kristy, and their meaning has changed as well.

This year for the first time, I unwrapped those ornaments. I looked at them and tried to decide what they meant to me a year further down the road. I set them back in the box again, but less decisively. I met a friend the next night, and somehow the subject came up. As I explained it, I began to feel like it was time to put them back out.

I still think the ending was poorly written, but it is part of my story. I suppose if I were with someone now, it might be harder to explain why they belong on the tree, but maybe in telling the story, I would come to know better how I feel. If I keep these things in my too-large box of regrets, they seem to hold more power than if I just have them out in the open.

So my tree is up again, it is my story, and I am sticking to it.

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