I recently wrote about working through some of the residual funk from losing my Dad around the holidays. It’s been twenty years since his passing, and I thought dipping back into the wormhole of that experience would round out the corners of my feelings. Creative-types do this. Musicians make entire break-up albums and artists pour their angst onto the canvas. It didn’t quite work, making me envious of accountants and lawyers who go to shrinks or overcharge their clients like normal people.
I have dragged my heels through this entire season. I have phoned in more than a few presents (the all-mighty gift card is saving my ass this year). I wrote the bare minimum on our holiday cards and the one’s we’ve received lay in a pile instead of displayed in some kind of adorable, Pinterest-inspired contraption of baker’s twine and sparkly clothespins. Nope o’clock. I already know that I’m going to short change my most favorite part of the season: baking. An excuse to fill trays and trays of sugar, chocolate, candied nuts, and other frosted-covered-diabetes-bites is what I live for. But this year all bets are off.
Last weekend we decided to get our Christmas tree. As a little girl, the getting, putting up, and decorating of the tree was enough to send me into near seizures of excitement. We lived in a ranch house with low ceilings so our trees were always modest. However, my Dad treated them like redwoods in the way he wrestled them into the cheap, warped metal stand. He would slide on his belly and wrench the bolts into the trunk like Dr. Frankenstein. And the tree would still list slightly no matter how much he fussed over it.
Once the tree was vertical and in the living room, we’d put on Christmas RECORDS and decorate. My brother and I would race to put on the first ornament, digging through the boxes to find our favorite ones. Inevitably my mother ended up draping tinsel and putting on the finishing touches as one by one we lost interest and decided it had become less like magic and more like work (it’s the same reason she always got stuck taking it down).
I hoped getting our tree this year would be the Red Bull holiday boost I needed. Nope o’clock.
We wandered around the garden center jiggling the trees in a half-hearted way. I watched other families roam around the area with their kids who darted in and out of the long rows of evergreens playing tag in the temporary forest.
He, my person, could see the struggle on my face, the push-pull between wanting to fall into the season and wanting to quietly send it on its way.
“What about a plant?”
“Yeah, let’s see what’s in the greenhouse. Maybe we’ll see something we like and we can have all year round.”
I was skeptical. It seemed sacrilegious. It seemed defeatist. It seemed kind of right.
We walked around the greenhouse poking around tables until we came to a large display of Norfolk pine plants. Spiny and sprinkled with a touch of glitter, not enough to make you want to break out your gay pride flag, but enough to make it seem special, and Crayola green, the pines were in large pots foiled in red and gold paper. A dainty, red bow was plunked on its crown. I felt like Charlie Brown when he comes upon the pathetic twig with needles that he dubs as most sincere and deserving of representing what is right and pure about Christmas. It’s his small joy, true of heart and intention, which makes the tree shine.
Sometimes the small joy is what makes the big difference.