How Lovely Are Thy Branches

Last night I decorated the Christmas tree.

And by “I,” I do mean me. David helps me get the tree and get it in the stand, but that’s really all. This year I didn’t mind at all.

When I was young, the Christmas tree was a huge part of our holiday. Acquiring the tree usually involved traipsing to multiple lots to find the perfect tree, often in bitter cold, followed by Mexican food. Leo would set up the tree and put on the lights. It was always his job, though my mom often complained he didn’t do it right. Then he’d fix them and go watch TV. And she fixed them again.

Then my mom and I decorated the tree. Since I was a baby, she’s given me an ornament every year. The first is a clay Santa my dad made me before he died. After that, they’re all from her. I have the dates marked on them and it’s always been part of the ritual to unwrap them and lay them out in order. I put the Santa from my dad at the top and spiral down the tree.

I have so many images over the years of doing this. When I was very young, there were only a few, but it felt like a pile of treasure. I remember the years I received each one and added it to its place of honor in the center of the tree. There’s the Betsy Ross ornament from 1976, followed by a pink polka-dotted cat the next year, to commemorate the loss of the family cat that had been older than I.

It’s become like the name game over the years. You know the ice-breaker, where one person says their name, and the next person says the first person’s name plus their own, and so on. The game wraps around to the first person who has to recite them all in order. The names from early on are easiest, because they’ve been repeated so many times; it’s the later ones that stump you.

Now I’m up to somewhere around 60 ornaments. (No, I’m not that old – a lot of them are pairs). The ones from my early years are so familiar. I have forty overlapping images of unwrapping them every year. The newer ones carry less emotional weight. A couple have not stood the test of time. One got chewed on by our border collie. Another I keep gluing and it insists on coming apart.

It used to be that I tried to make David help me trim the tree. Or worse, I tried to get him to enjoy it. In our early years together, I would cry because he so clearly didn’t care. He’d help, but the act held no romance for him. All those little ornaments carried no weight for him. He looks at them, nods and smiles. But it’s just a Christmas tree ornament to him. My stepkids, too, never got into decorating the tree. They were just as happy to see it done without them.

David and I enjoy a lot of harmony, so it’s marked that I got a bit snarly every year that he didn’t share this with me. This year, though, he’s deep in finals. I really wanted to get the tree done last night and he has two finals today. So I decorated the tree while he studied.

I also drank champagne, which adds to any occasion.

I felt my usual nostalgia, unwrapping the ornaments. I hate that the one got chewed up. (Yes, I keep it with the others.) I had to glue a couple. One might be finally and irretrievably beyond gluing, but he’s part of a pair, so there’s another to represent that year.

Maybe because I could let go of David participating, I enjoyed it more this time. It occurred to me, as I was gluing, that some of these ornaments were never intended to last forty years. And that it’s okay to let them go. Things change. I like decorating the tree and it’s okay to enjoy it by myself. The ornaments are not a museum collection that must be preserved at all costs. They mean something to me and really no one else but my mother and that’s okay.

I’m told I’m not good at letting things go. And that it’s likely because my father died when I was so young. I tend to cling to things that represent the past, wanting them to last forever.

I think I’m getting better at this. Letting go feels good.

And the tree is so beautiful, just the way it is.

5 Replies to “How Lovely Are Thy Branches”

  1. We haven't had a tree in so many years, I can't really remember the last time we had one. It had to be maybe 12 or 13 years ago. I don't miss it, to be honest. Christmas trees weren't a big deal with my mom's family. However, when I'd visit my dad around Christmas time, it was different. My stepmom firmly believed in having a tree and we'd decorate while my dad played his Christmas 45s. I did enjoy that and miss it sometimes.

  2. A nice post Jeffe, took me on a nostalgic trip of my own ornaments. Each tells a story–happy and sad. Maybe it is a kind of solitary rite, for some.
    It looks beautiful. Happy Holidays.

    jeanne

  3. Beautiful tree, Jeffe. 🙂

    We still haven't decorated our tree yet (though it's up & the lights are shining). I keep hoping we'll find a time when we're all here and inspired. Just hope it happens before Christmas.

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