All behaviour is a form of communication–including Christmas tree decorating.
I’ve been noticing that the trees are talking this year. They are saying different things about their owners. Something about their hope, their discouragement, their desires, their perspectives.
- When did you put your Christmas tree up?
- What did you put on it?
- What kind of Christmas tree do you have?
- How is it different from other years, and why?
Let me give you three examples of three different trees and what they say:
This is my friend, M’s tree. M’s husband has been in and out of hospital with an illness and its complications. One complication of going to hospital in 2020 is catching COVID-19–which he did. He was able to come home for a few days and unwittingly exposed her to the virus.
Now she was quarantining at home with a husband in hospital. Apart longer than they have been for over 50 years.
Decorating is something M and her husband have always done together. He hauls the boxes in from the garage and sets up the tree, and then they do the baubles together. This year, without him, it all seemed too overwhelming for her to do on her own.
M sits vigil at home, waiting. She calls him. She waits for the procedures that will bring healing, delayed because of both COVID-19 and Christmas. M sits on her hands, desperate to go in and remind him to do things like families have always done with sick family: “Let’s go for a short walk–it’ll be good for you.” “How’s about I get you something to eat–what would you eat?” She waits for the phone to ring.
It’s a lot–a lot of nothing. Waiting. Staying the course.
She is overwhelmed with all that she can’t do, all that she doesn’t know, and all the concern that is held in quarantine with her.
Her son got her a little baby tree. There are a very few lights and she put a few tiny balls on it. She loves it, and gazes at it lit up at night, as it sits against the wall. Behind the lit candles on the coffee table.
And she knows that this little fir will be tended until spring and planted in the back yard.
This tree has a future–and it is giving M. hope.
You oughta see my pal, L’s house at Christmas. She has and entire little village on the side table, lit with lights inside the windows. Every surface is Christmas-ified with tablecloths, runners, wall hangings, figurines. She knows how to celebrate the season–regularly.
This year, they bought a real tree, put some lights on it–but only a very few decorations. Only a fraction of what she usually puts on.
And no star on the top.
For L, the tree reflects the spirit of the world. Christmas is happening, but with a subdued tone. She wants to acknowledge Christmas and the immense meaning it has for her–but she does so with solemnity–not frivolity.
The lavish extravagance of the decorations that make her home festive and bright isn’t present this year. L says it wouldn’t be honest. It’s hard to be merry and bright and jolly when so many have lost a family member, or their job, or are struggling with isolation.
L marks the season in a sacred way–honouring the spirit of the season which is different this year than most.
This is my tree. It tells a different story. Not a better or worse one–just different.
I like the process of decorating the tree just as much or more than the decorated tree itself. We have an entire annual event where the kids come home and we eat Chinese food first. Sometimes my parents come. Then we create a happy chaos of untangling lights, and exclaiming over decorations, telling and re-telling the story of our favorites. We see the pictures of kids in years past with Santa that are discovered in the Christmas containers along with the decorations. We play Christmas music.
Christmas tree decorating is an event in our home–usually.
This year, it wasn’t.
Christmas tree decorating was a gong show this year.
The night that just our little household was to decorate it–we couldn’t find a tree lot that would see us a tree. We booked one for pick up three days later, but it was Friday night and I was tired and Chinese food was going to rescue me.
We had Chinese food that night, but no tree. And no kids come home. Just one who lives with us. We like him–but he doesn’t create much chaos on his own. 🙂
We got the tree a few days later–given to us, not chosen. It’s beautiful, but part of the fun is picking it, isn’t ? I wasn’t home when it came, so Husband put decorations on it so it would be beautiful on my arrival.
Here’s the thing: it is all so strange. All the things at Christmas now are so different, so not the same.
I’ve been working steady with companies, orgnaizations and departments working with teams to get through a tough season. Clients are struggling with lives that would be difficult without the pandemic–and the pandemic adds this whole extra layer. I love my work–but I need my home life to put gas in my tank because work is–well–a lot.
So our tree this year looks the same as it does every year.
I needed something to be the same this Christmas season–and the tree was about the only thing that could be.
In fact, I saw a few decorations were missing–and I sent Husband back into the shed to go through all the containers because I needed every last one of the usual decorations to be one there, DANG IT!!
I need to feel the consistency and routine of looking at this tree in the same place with the same decorations. It soothes me. Reminds me that although things look and feel very different, that the most important things–love, family, friends, faith–are rock-solid.
There’s something very different about this season for almost all of us.
- Family gatherings have been cancelled.
- Shopping is near impossible for those of us that have always preferred to touch our purchases before buying.
- Live concerts are non-existent.
- Parties with hugs at the door, handshakes of greeting, glasses tinkled together with a toast, and sharing plates of food while visiting in small groups–not happening.
- Time with family come home from afar–Nope.
Christmas trees this year are a sign for many of us. They are saying something about our spirits. Our hearts need to acknowledge where we are at and our Christmas trees are talking.