When I was a boy my father and youngest brother made it a tradition to go to the Halifax Forum and purchase a large Christmas tree. It would be so tall that my father would cut the top off to make room for the Angel or Star under a high ceiling. We had ornaments from my mother’s family, ornaments from our childhood and later, ornaments we gave each other as family members. The five of us would sit round the tree and decorate with lights, ornaments and some tinsel. The base was a very old metal/wooden vice that gripped the tree trunk firmly, covered over by a tree skirt. The presentation was like our family, full, diverse styles, over-flowing, colourful, and slightly messy. The tree was bursting with activity with lots for the eye to see.
We maintained that tradition for years, even when the lads had moved out on our own. There was something about that was reassuring, a sturdy representation of the anchor of our lives, family. There was a lot of work that went into the tree but at that point in our lives no one was burdened by it, it was fun, life-giving and not terribly expensive.
As we moved away, got jobs and our parents aged the strain of pulling the tree together became increasingly problematic. But my mother and my middle-brother were determined to keep tradition going. The tree became a bit neater, more uniform as each of the boys took some of the ornaments for their own trees. What was left were the decorations from my maternal grandparents and my childhood. I began to feel like some of these traditions were more of a burden than a joy, at least for me. It was then I realized my take-away from Christmas was shifting, away from family anchors to something else.
At first there was a kind of purity to my Christmas piety, putting up the cards with the Mary and Joseph theme, using crèche scenes, putting the “Christ” in Christmas as they say. But that was short-lived, I quickly saw that there was no correlation between piety and actual follow through, looking for the “other” in the mangers of our world to see the Christ. Most of the piety I saw was inward looking, not outward, and this changed my approach to Christmas. Throughout most of my later years I have sought to simplify Christmas, cutting down on gifts to the familiar, increasing gifts to the “other”, looking for the Christ child beyond the four walls of my home, beyond the four walls of my churches.
So the trees got smaller. Not long after Lucy became part of our lives we shifted from large trees to small ones, and then VERY small ones, Charlie Brown small. One tree was so small it looked like a shrub, sitting on a table.
More recently we have found the traditions of decorating to be less than fulfilling so we have simplified more. We gave away all of the ornaments, save for the ones we loved. And then I saw the perfect tree on kijji. It was made of 2X4’s, 35 inches tall, with shelves for a few ornaments, hooks for a few more. My brother had made a large gold star for us connected to a steel rod. I asked a friend to permanently connect the rod to the back of the 2X4 tree. It looks great and all three of us love it! It will be our permanent tree, every year. Natural, wooden, a few special ornaments, a star made by family, and place for our gifts underneath.