Childhood Memories, Family, London, Michigan, Stories, Travel, World

Oh Christmas Tree

I love our tree. It’s our very first Christmas tree for our very first Christmas as a married couple. But it’s our third Christmas together. Our first being in the holy city of Bethlehem. Oh the memories. And the story of how I quit drinking hard liquor. That’s a personal one that not many know. Can’t spill all the secrets. Last year we spent a white Christmas in Michigan with my family, where Ali met all of them for the very first time and secretly asked my mom permission to marry me. And this year, in London, we celebrated a quiet Christmas together as The Sharps.

There have been various family traditions related to The Christmas Tree throughout my childhood. I recall my mom and dad returning after having chosen our tree from a nearby tree farm and perhaps my dad mostly went and chose one on his own. I don’t ever remember making it a family outing, although memories can get foggy with the reels of Christmas stories and tv dramas I watched as a child on television where the family heads out together with axe in hand to choose the family tree. The trees that my dad returned home with were always at least six, seven or more feet tall, as we had a catherdal ceiling in the livingroom which allowed for tall Christmas trees. It would undoubtedly be a blue spruce and smell freshly cut and full of forest charm. We would have homemade Christmas cookies and hot chocolate and take turns putting ornaments on the tree. My mom would choose them one by one from the box of Christmas delights that was unpacked and repacked every year after the holidays.

There were some only mom and dad could place on the tree. These ones went at the top and were almost always fragile and exotic looking. I chose these as my favourite, perhaps because they were the forbidden fruit on the tree. We had special ornaments to place on the tree as well, the ones only us children had the privilege of placing on the tips of the branches, at head level. Each year we would make an ornament with a tiny picture of our heads and smiles at school. This would be our gift to our parents and every year, they collected another one for each child. This lasted until we were about ten and graduated on to middle school, where there was no longer time to make Christmas tree ornaments for our parents, as we busied ourselves with school gossip and figuring out who we were. But we still enjoyed looking back over the years of our growth each Christmas as we put our ornaments on the tree. After Josh died, we took turns putting his ornaments on the tree, in silence. It was harder than we thought and we just didn’t want to say anything about that. There was an emptiness there and a void which existed but as there was nothing to fill it we just decorated the tree as we always had.

We grew up and moved out or went to college and coming home for Christmas meant arriving after the tree was already up and decorated. We’d sit around the tree upon our first gathering together, maybe still sip on hot chocolate and scarf down the cookies mom had made. Our eyes would gaze over the tree and it was evident we were all still searching four ‘our’ ornaments, and Josh’s too. The trees were shorter as the homes they stood in changed. Our parents had been divorced for maybe four or five years now and the trees that existed in those years have their own stories with them. Like the time my mom and I had to tie each side of the tree to the door handle and place it in the corner because it was too top heavy to survive standing on its own. Or the first time we had to put up a faux Christmas tree, the kind where the tall plastic base stands with holes awaiting the less-than-bushy green branches to fill them. We can laugh about it now, and I am sure we did then too, through gritted teeth.

Then, for me, came the years without The Christmas Tree. While living overseas, I found myself celebrating Chistmas on tropical islands and in Buddhist countries where the only trees were palm trees and fake plastic trees put up in the centres of shopping malls in Bangkok. Christmas traditions changed and became trips and holidays in far off lands, well far off from America, but an affordable and short plane ride to another SE Asian country. There was Christmas on Saipan, where we set up under a palm tree. In Laos, where we found ourselves sitting in line with all the other western foreigners outside a shack of sorts to make that long distance phone call home on Christmas evening. There was a Christmas return to Michigan after Wayne died and there were more voids to be filled and just being together for the holidays was important. Then came Christmas in Cambodia where celebrating seemed sacreligious as children waited at your feet for scraps from your Christmas dinner in Phenom Penh. These Christmas’ were without trees and traditions and more about just enjoying life, being thankful for it and the comany I was with. Then came Bethlehem. With Ali. I’ve written a bit about this adventure in my archives.

And here we are today. Christmas has come and gone. The tree still sits before me. I will slowly unwrap the homemade popcorn garland, strung by both of us, and pack the different shades of green bulbs (baubles, as they are called here) away into a Christmas box for next year. To be packed and unpacked over the years. Candy canes slowly come off the tree as we add their minty freshness to our steaming hot chocolate. There are no lights on our tree, nor a fancy topper. There are ornaments that don’t match, that have been collected from various travels so far and every year we will add another from wherever we may be. The tree has kept the livingroom smelling almost like a fresh forest. I will look online this afternoon for a place closer than Kew Gardens to recycle it. We will trek through town, the tree thrown over Ali’s shoulder and me making a path through the busy London streets. Perhaps.

Yes, it’s true. I love our tree. For what it represents. For the smell of fresh forest which permeates throughout our livingroom. For the ornaments collected. The memory of stringing the garland together one cold winter night before Ali headed off to work. And just because it is our first Christmas tree. Ali’s first real Christmas tree. The first tree I helped choose. We went to the London Borough Market together, searching for the one which would fit perfectly in our home. We found it behind a taller one. Short and chubby, waiting for us to notice it humbly hiding behind the ones in the front. We snatched it up and it waited for us while we walked once through the market and then took it on the bus with us in the early morning hours, a silent passenger on the way to celebrating its first Christmas with The Sharps.