Each Ornament, An Echo
Life Lesson from a Christmas Tree
With just shy of two weeks to spare, my folks finally got the Christmas tree up. It was a slow and purposeful process. We began the work the previous week, spinning around the tree with the brightest green lights I had ever seen. These were chased by strings of reds, multicolored, blues, and finally some big fat grape lights that probably aren’t meant for Christmas at all.
I went to work for a week, living my own life, ready to take up the task back up on my next day off. Mom worked on the tree, adding little additions throughout the week. We had agreed we’d finish the decorations the following week, and as Saturday rolled around, that’s exactly what we did.
On that Saturday, Momma had a box opened and ready for us.
A little cardboard box containing carefully gone over and sorted Christmas ornaments — a bit messy, many had tangled and woven themselves together, hooks in pine cones, and strings wrapped about little crystals and the like — sat on the portable table my mom uses for art projects. She smiled a broad and happy smile as we carefully plucked little ornaments from the box, each one sparking a small story of one memory or another.
Some of the stories were harder to share. They marked the memory of those that wouldn’t be celebrating with us this year, or any year after, except in spirit.
Slowly, we decorated the tree with ornaments and stories, adding a splash of confetti here and there. We laughed at the memory of my grandmother who found this part her most favorite part. She loved the way the confetti pieces caught the light, carrying the light in unexpected angles and magical little sparks of reflections.
Echoes. All these lights and ornaments. Echoes and memories.
I saw in each ornament a collection of stories. The stories that have made me, directly and indirectly. Each ornament was more than what it was in my hands before going on the tree, it was a symbol, a part in a sacred ritual that I and my family have practiced my entire life, even before I understood the practice or knew what it was we were doing.
Too often, in our modern world, we bury the ancient. We shrug off the shadow of that former world, the one where the blaze of the face of deities and myths cast such long light that the shade they ultimately created wrapped the world. I have never known any of these things in the way our ancestors have, but yet, some part of me knows them here and even now.
Next we came to the little ornaments I made as a kid, and the memories of those innocent years washed over me. These were a small batch made over several years. One that I am still not sure how I made, it actually looked good! And in these ornaments I see the foreshadowing of the interests I’d eventually find and be found by. The darker tones of the colors I chose, the magical elements that even then sung to me, the way I felt connected by the act of giving.
Each ornament was more than its substance. Each ornament was a symbol, a promise. No, more, each ornament was a collection of promises. It promised to hold in its depths that sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly thing we call truth. It rooted me in times and places that might now be only shadows kept in the sacred vault of my heart, symbols. And they were the depths of truth, the connection between me and my family, the continuation of tradition and ritual and the sacred bond between us.
Little trinkets adorning a tree sitting in our living room. There’s the star that was my first Christmas tree star and that somehow still sits mostly in tact atop the tree (after a few repairs through the years, and one or two re-wirings for sure). There’s the “mountain climber” a rodent like figure that has always climbed the heights of the tree, and always given me the deepest and most pure joy to unbox, find a special place for and hang on that tree. There’s my grandfather’s bola, my aunt’s earrings, my grandmother’s little treasures, the handmade ornaments my mom and I made some long forgotten years ago. Each one a tiny piece of the soul of my family.
Each ornament, symbolically, a fruit hanging from the tree of who and what we hope to be. A family. Bound by love, continued in tradition, and each year, grasping one another in tighter hugs as the grand expanse of this family shrinks and health ebbs and flows.
I looked at the Christmas tree with new eyes this year, and maybe what I’m trying to write, to share with you is this deeper truth about the things that make us. Maybe it’s hidden in the guise of a tree that changes branches, hell, changes trees, but the ornaments stay the same, the stories behind them grow richer in meaning. The tree might change, but its Christmas fruit remains.
We’re like that too. We change over time, we grow, we stunt our growth, we fall, we rise, we mess things up, we fix them, patch them but what’s happening isn’t just replacing or trading one moment for another. Maybe, just maybe, what we’re really doing is growing deeper roots. Bearing richer fruit. Becoming.