Very few moments of Christmas offer the peaceful quiet and tranquility regaled in that renowned Carol Silent Night. If you have children, especially, there is no such thing. The quietest moment you may experience in fact are those 12 seconds in the mall parking lot, right between turning off the engine and stepping out into the throng. That moment when the radio is silenced and you are entirely alone with your thoughts.
My thoughts generally consist of a desperation prayer… “Lord, protect my husband’s sanity as he manages and entertains our children for the next three hours. Help him to choose age appropriate Christmas programing, to remember that you can never appease a teenager and that high sugar snacks are not sleep inducing. Please guide my shopping adventure, that I may find the correct size, colour and label without migraine causing difficulty, grant me patience for line-ups, tolerance for the rudeness and forgiveness for any profanity that I might consider appropriate.”
Those 12 seconds border on reverent, but to be truly honest, there is only one silent, peaceful and introspective moment that takes my breath away completely. Great peace and silence is provided in the glow of our loudest, most obnoxious, mismatched, tacky holiday symbol in our home; The Christmas Tree.
The adornments are a hodgepodge. Arguments and anxiety over tree selection are fierce. Decorating the darned thing demands a strong stomach. Each year I swear that I shall pack a bottle of Advil, a fifth of rye and a couple of shot glasses neatly away with the ornaments; a first aid kit for the following year. The lights do not match. There are white ones and coloured ones and two strings of dancing lights from conflicting manufactures, so they never dance to the same beat. This year the dancing lights bit the dust, (I admit to a little dance myself on the extinguished cords) There is guaranteed tension when tree day is announced and yet it is my favourite day of the holiday preparations.
We choose an evening when everyone is home, plan a bits and bites diner and turn on the Christmas music. Michael prepares mugs of cider then finds a comfy spot on the couch to nurse his patience. I plunk into my favourite chair with a dusty box of ornaments on my lap and prepare them for hanging. I straighten, untangle, repair as needed, and loop them on my fingers for pick up. The kids travel back and forth, transferring from fingers to branches. Each year I realize that they are older but as they work, bicker and delight I can only see them as ‘little kids’ and I remember those years...
The first year Lula decorated the tree; we enjoyed a single clustered patch of ornaments in a sea of green. When KJ came along and joined the decorating crew we enjoyed 2 patches in the same sea. As they grew taller the patches moved up the tree. When E-man was old enough to toddle to the tree the girls had begun developing artistic eyes and they coached him on ornament placement, as best as a 2 year old can be coached. Those were the years that the bottom half of the tree was fully decorated with a heavy presence in one quadrant. Fast forward 17 Christmases, they can all reach well up into the tree and the whole thing gets equal billing.
Little else changes…
They still debate ornament origin, ownership and placement. Michael refrains from refereeing; a wise move on his part. It was his bright idea after all, the first year we were married, to begin with one ornament and add something each year. I listen to the crush of noise and wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to have one of those all matching decorator trees that can be put in a closet from January through November.
The decorating foreperson emerges early in the process, this person’s capability is questioned relatively quickly by the self-appointed Quality Control manager. Guaranteed that one child will abandon the project by the half-way point. Voices get raised, laughter is spilled, we’ve had a year or two complete with tears but eventually the tree gets finished.
The kids go to bed and the time comes for Michael and I to turn in. As I reach to unplug the tree...the calm comes. Right then, right there is the silence. When the house is dark save for the Christmas tree lights. I pause and reflect upon our un-designer conflict inducing Christmas tree. I smile at the Popsicle stick reindeers and the beaded candy canes crafted by my kids though the years. I gaze at pretty pewter and glass ornaments given to our family by friends in Christmases past. I smile at the paper butterfly made by the hospital auxiliary the year Michael was in hospital just days before Christmas. I reach out and turn around a tiny ceramic bell or a one armed nutcracker that came to our tree from my grandmother the year she lost her independence. They came from her grandmother and one day will hang on the trees of my own children and grandchildren. The single ornament that Michael hangs on the tree is the one from our very first Christmas together , a delicate Precious Moments porcelain wedding bell that I imagined has survived our 20 years much the same way our marriage has; with resilience, care and the grace of god. I turn off the 3 individually lit angel ornaments and smile at the three baby soothers that hang near the tree top, one for each of my three babies.
Our tree… it shouts and hollers, it sings and laughs, it cries and it rejoices, that is its’ story. In that story lies the silence, the peace, the magic, the meaning of Christmas; that we are blessed, each of us with our own stories with our own challenges, accomplishments, struggles and successes and that each of us owes our story to the love of a father who gave to us his son. Celebration is, at Christmas, the sincerest expression of our immeasurable gratitude for that gift.
Spend some moment everyday in reflection of gratitude and happiness. Even if the time found is standing in line for coffee...use is wisely.