Christmas trees have always been one of my favorite traditions of this holiday season.
Recently, I toured the Biltmore House in Asheville during the special Downton Abbey Exhibition. The tour guide told us there were seventy decorated trees inside the house and seventy outside. Because of the massive rooms with high ceilings, most of the trees were very large with elaborate decorations– the kind that only a sizable staff would have the time and skill to render. I spent more time looking at the Biltmore trees than the lavish furnishings of the largest home in America.
When I was a girl, our tree was always a cedar that was given to us by my uncle from his lot of trees that he sold for a dollar each. I loved the smell of that evergreen but hated that they were scratchy and couldn’t hold the heavier ornaments. When I married, my husband and I always had a Frazier fir– easier to decorate but I missed the smell of cedar. When we moved into a larger home, we had two live trees– one with family and kid-made ornaments and one that was a dreamy turquoise-and-gold themed tree in our living room.
Those trees were a lot of work; a trip to the farm to pick out the right size and shape for each spot; obsessive checking that the trees were level; multiple trips to the attic to pull down boxes of decorations; making sure the lights were evenly distributed and ornaments were balanced; tree watered every day, lights on-and-off every evening. I’d often stay up late, reading and looking at those colorful lights. I always felt a little sad when it was time to take it down.
But this year, things aren’t as usual at Christmas.
Rather than going with my husband to get our tree, I’d planned to go with my son, Brooks and his family to get my tree. We’d do that the Saturday after Thanksgiving, taking my grandson to the tree farm like we did last year. But it rained that day and we changed our plans. My son opted for an artificial tree, wanting the convenience and less fuss with falling needles. He asked me to tell him when I wanted to go for my Frazier fir.
It was the initial Christmas decision I had to make in this new season of my life.
For the first time since before I married– forty-one Christmases ago, I thought about whether to have a tree. Once that tree was in the stand, all the usual duties of maintaining it would be mine. Was it worth it this Christmas when most everything else would feel different? I considered following my son and getting an artificial tree and went to several stores to check them out, but nothing made me feel any spark. I went back-and-forth between whether to get a live tree or find a smaller artificial one.
But then it occurred to me: You don’t have to have a tree unless you really want one. This may sound completely obvious to others but it was an “Ah ha” for me. I had always taken great pride in decorating my home at Christmas and that included the centerpiece of a tree.
I considered the practicalities– how much time I’d be at home to enjoy the tree, the cost verses the benefit. Did I need to have a tree for it to feel like Christmas? I loved the form of the trees as well as the color and light of the decorations. Could I meet that need in another way?
In a recent morning devotional, there was a scripture reading that resonated with me:
“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a New Thing. Now it springs up: Do you not perceive it? I am making a Way in the Wilderness and Streams in the Wasteland.” Isaiah 43: 18-19 (NIV)
Things are changing for me. While I keep stepping forward into what often feels like darkness, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I believe that there is a New Thing that is being created within and for me. Throughout this year of separation, I’ve had to discern how to value what I can of the ‘former things’ while at the same time not dwelling on the past, on regret about what was.
I decided not to get a tree. I would enjoy the color of my other decorations and the lights of my neighbors’ trees when I take my nighttime walk. I remembered the tree in the Biltmore gift store, and how the blues and reds had drawn me. Looking up into the boughs, there was an ornament that said, “HOPE.”
Gazing at the picture now, I want to remember that HOPE is what this season is about. One of my favorite Christmas songs, “Oh Holy Night” has a line I love, “A Thrill of Hope the Weary World Rejoices.”
May all of us who are weary feel that HOPE no matter what traditions we have, no matter which ones we feel we need to let go of for this season.
How About You?
Are there holiday traditions that you need to let go of this year?
Where do you find HOPE when you are weary?