How do you adorn your holiday tree? How have you collected your ornaments? Are they just fun or do they contain symbolism of your cherished beliefs and fantasies? Does your tree invoke your better self or lighten your mood?
When you’ve lived as long as I have, a LOT of Christmas trees have come and gone, (not that anyone is counting!) as have many Christmas ornaments. This year, as I mindfully unpacked my holiday decor, I realized just how fortunate I have been to find meaning in the act of decorating with meaning.
While some folks surround themselves in institutional traditions and childhood remanences, my tree holds clues to experiences in exploring the Tree of Life. Over the years, I have carefully selected ornaments to bring specific joys, which are anything but traditional!
My tree ornaments are more than decorations that merely expressing my style and creativity. They serve as windows into my sojourn on this earth and sometimes even into my psyche. But that is now; it has not always been so.
In the ’50’s of my early rural Texas childhood, there was the scrawny yet fragrant little fir tree that introduced me to Santa Claus’ elusive twilight visits. I say ‘twilight’ because this was one my earliest toddler memories of the longest nights of the year. A single strand of heavy glass (screw in socket) lights dimly lit the bare living room floor, bringing light to the darkness of cold harsh winter. That memory evokes gratitude for the shelter over my wee head.
Then there was the silver aluminum tree that landed in our living room, much to the chagrin of my parents, when they realized that I was allergic to the sap in the fresh evergreen. The lights had to go as well. Times got harder and winters grew colder when my little brothers and sister also kept hoping to hear Santa’s reindeer on our tiny rooftop. Only the lowing of farm cattle in the distance gave life to imaginings in the creche situated in the church yard across town.
I was more of an observer than a participant in those days, following along and mostly disconnected from the rituals of the season…. trying to make sense of the Christmas story and dichotomy of life vs the legends. I was told to believe and so I believed. Perhaps it was the hardships of poverty or my parents’ unhappy marriage. But emotional meaning was not to be found in the world of church or community. That would come later with more understanding and years of studies in comparative religion and history beyond Christianity.
However, I did find connection with the stars in the winter night sky of North Texas. Even at age six, I remember yearning for something in those stars. I searched for both reindeer and the Star of the East while driving home late on Christmas Eve from my grandparents farm, way past bedtime. Even as a child I was thinking mystic thoughts, such as…Did Santa ride the Milky Way on his way home to the North Pole? Where did the Wise Men come from and what did they know?
The stars twinkled large and bright as I laid under the back window of our little Rambler sedan. My siblings and I had received new underwear from our grandparents, their annual gift to each of their twenty six grandchildren… and for one night, we were happy. If it had been a good year, we might have one Christmas wish fulfilled. Most years, Santa improvised; sometimes he forgot.
Then there was the year on the high plains when my mother had gone to be with an aunt who had lost a baby in childbirth. Well, my parents had risked bringing a real tree into the house that year. (I stayed away from it.) It just so happened that a candle somehow fell over and caught the tree afire. Luckily no-one was hurt, but our few gifts met their maker melted and charred.
Just after my eleventh birthday (the week before Christmas) we were driving along rural road when a strange light appeared. Was it an airplane or a rare glimpse of a satellite?
Those starry west Texas skies (not too far from Roswell, NM) tempted us into wondering if we were following a UFO, as the glow zigged and zagged in the southern sky over the course of several minutes and finally dipped below the horizon.
The next year we moved to Houston, where we traded those exciting stars for highly commercialized, yet dazzling Christmas displays to enhance our modest home fare. Folks in Houston really knew how to do Christmas trees right! The glitz and charm of the city raised spirits and quickened the pace of my life. By the time I reached teenage years, I ached for meaning in the holidays. The lights felt like an entry to something more… but what?
I adored the Christian traditions, but I was also fascinated by observances beyond ‘Life in the Manger Scene.”
While I was not yet aware of the diversity of traditions, I hungered for meaning behind the tinseled religion. Somewhere in my ancestral DNA simmered a desire to get to the bottom of all this fuss about the darkest days of the year.
By the time I left home, I had begun to make my own ornaments, in anticipation of having my own tree. And over the years, I continued to create ornaments that reflected my station along the path. Each creation has been a meditation on the nature of love that came down at Christmas, somehow nurturing the light hidden within all creation.
Now, my tree gives clues to where I have travelled both physically and emotionally, and more importantly it is a reflection of my values. Each ornament holds specific meaning. It hangs on a family tree filled with my loved ones and with an inner light tied to the wisdom of the Three Kings. I have spent a good bit of time delving into the mysteries affiliated with those wise men, only to return to the axiom that the power of LOVE fuels the Universe.
So, Happy Christmas to all souls of good will and a very bright 2019! And may you find hidden meaning in your life also!