As I prepare for the holidays, I’m reminded of a Christmas many years past when I learned an important lesson: a great Christmas doesn’t necessarily come in a perfect package.
That year I had lofty plans. It would be a Martha Stewart Christmas.
My expertly decorated house would be fit to be photographed for a magazine. I would bake awe-inspiring cookies from scratch. My husband and I would stroll through the malls taking in the splendor of the season instead of rushing to get our shopping done in a few child-free hours. Every gift would be wrapped with beautiful ribbons. Our Christmas cards would be hand calligraphed (never mind that I don’t know how to do calligraphy). Everything would have a special touch.
I thought I would have time to do it all because I was newly self employed. I could set my own hours! Time would be abundant! (Those who are self employed can pause now to chuckle at my naiveté.)
Instead, I found myself working around the clock on a client’s project. The countdown to Christmas was moving fast, and I hadn’t done anything. So one Saturday, I took a break to put up the Christmas tree.
We had bought a beautiful artificial tree at an after-Christmas sale the previous year. We sold our old tree at our garage sale. Or so we thought.
As we began to put the contents of two boxes together to form a tree, it soon became clear that we were dealing with the makings of two different trees. My husband and I exchanged wide-eyed looks of horror as we realized we had sold some poor, unsuspecting soul the bottom of our new tree and the top of our old one.
Because “self employed” is not a euphemism for “rolling in dough,” there was no way we could afford a new tree and still have presents to put under it. Life was grim.
“Kids, we can’t put up the tree,” I said. “There’s only half a tree.”
“Half a tree!” my daughter said with delight (inexplicably), and she and her brother started sticking branches into the tree’s post. It looked like a malformed bush.
Then, a Christmas miracle happened. My husband, Ebenezer, whose laments of “Why did I marry someone who is allergic to Christmas trees,” and “Do we really have to put up the tree yet,” are more common during the holidays than poinsettias, said, “We can make this work,” and started fashioning a tree from the mismatched parts.
With his help, the discordant mess was transformed into a small Christmas tree. Granted it was only about three feet tall and winged out on the bottom like Farrah Fawcett’s hair, but it was a tree nonetheless.
My son, blankie in hand, gingerly touched a branch and said, “Look at our beautiful, beautiful tree.” It reminded me of the scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which Charlie buys a stick with some pine needles on it from a tree lot, and Linus, armed with a similar blankie, says, “All it needs is a little love.” Then the children transform the pitiful stick into a beautiful Christmas tree.
So we put our tree on a box to make it taller, wrapped the base with my mother’s homemade tree skirt and decorated it. I’ll always remember the four of us standing together in the soft glow of the twinkle lights to admire our handiwork.
My father called that night after hearing the news about our tree. “I’ll lend you the money to buy a new one,” he offered.
“No thanks, Dad,” I said. “We have a tree.”
I’m sure somewhere there is a family with a similar Christmas memory:
Remember when we bought that stupid tree at a garage sale, and when we tried to put it together we had parts from two different trees?
I wonder if those people were able to squelch their inner Martha and accept imperfection like we did. Or did their warm, fuzzy feelings of holiday cheer turn to cold, hard, homicidal rage? We’ll never know.
The countdown to Christmas continued, and my husband and I completed our shopping in a four-hour marathon. The presents had stick-on bows on them. The cookies came courtesy of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. I never sent my Christmas cards. Still, one of my most cherished holiday memories is of our Charlie Brown Christmas.
It’s a good thing.