Over the past several years, I've gotten real big on the "why's" behind things. I guess it's a desire to be sure I'm not falling into carrying on some man-invented tradition that "conveniently" coincides with bringing God some (relatively small amount of) glory.
I was really (and I mean, REALLY) unmotivated this year to put up the tree (or any Christmas decorations for that matter). I've had a very hard time, overall, getting into the Christmas spirit, which is completely and totally out of character for me. Perhaps it's because I've felt so incredibly awful the past six months (tired, achy, icky, blech.) Or perhaps the older I get, the quicker Christmas seems to sneak up on me, and it just doesn't seem "time." I mean, really, weren't we just hitting the pool in 90 degree heat for swim meets? When the heck did it get to be December?!?
So last night, about a week and a half later than usual, we finally got our tree. After an impromptu trip (unfortunately, a necessary one, we realized, when we got the lights out of the attic) to Target to get two of their last three boxes of tree lights, we managed to get the tree lit. No energy for ornaments by that time, but at least the lights were on.
Today was no exception in the fight to attain some resemblance of Christmas spirit, but after much prodding and tugging (quite literally) from the kids, I finally got up enough energy and desire to put ornaments on the tree. I'd like to say it was because the spirit to decorate finally hit me, but in reality, it was a Type-A desire to fix all the "clumps" of ornaments the kids had already managed to create. Because, let's face it, if I don't the tree just might fall over from its unbalanced-ness. That was my excuse...I mean reasoning...I mean story, anyway.
As I dug into the ornament chaos my kids had called "decorating", I couldn't help but huff and puff in my frustrated and grumpy state of mind. And as I found a Christmas station on Pandora and was singing (loudly) along with it, trying to force myself into feeling all Christmas-ey, I was consumed with three thoughts:
1.) Who decided we should bring a TREE into our homes to decorate this time of year. I mean, really, there's a TREE in my living room.
2.) Why do we put lights on it in the first place? I know, it was originally candles (to mimic the flickering stars in the sky, I now know), but that would be absolutely foolish in this day and age (and probably was back then, too.) But who thought getting your hands all scratched up forcing strands of lights onto tree branches was a good idea? And why so many choices? White, colored, large, mini, all blue, blue and white, blinking, bubbling-the options are ridiculously endless.
3.) And finally, ornaments. How did we go from nuts and figs and paper flowers to Santa Claus heads and nativity scenes and "New Home 1997"?? Why do some people go the all-ball route and others of us are set on hanging every single ornament we've ever made since we were three?
I couldn't help but marvel at how this tradition has exploded into a ridiculous amount of time and work for just a few weeks of enjoyment. As I started unfolding the tissues and opening ornament boxes, though, the Christmas spirit began to envelop me, little by little, with every ornament I unveiled. As I started to put each ornament on the tree, those three thoughts bouncing around in my head, I came to two very monumental realizations.
First, (and it seems quite obvious now) there's no real right or wrong color choice for lights or ornamental theme. Every tree is an individual reflection of those who are decorating it. For some, it's a beautifully symmetrical tree where all lights and ornaments are of the same color, shape, size-like one you might find in the Biltmore or the Capitol Building or a Macy's picture window in New York City.
For others (and this includes us), your tree tells a story. For me, there are ornaments from just about every monumental occasion in my life, my husband's life, and my childrens' lives. There are ornaments that my kids made in kindergarten and preschool and there are ornaments that I made in kindergarten and preschool (some of which I remember making.) There are ornaments from marriage, births, moves, achievements, hometowns, vacations, hobbies (lots of musical notes and song quotes on ours), jobs (lots of airplanes and gifts from old bosses), ornaments that were my mom's and used to grace the trees of my childhood and ornaments that used to hang on my husband's grandmother's tree. Every year, our tree is a living chronicle of over 100 collective years of memories. From the moment we unwrap an ornament and place it on the tree to the moment we take it down and carefully wrap it back up again, we are continuously reliving some of the sweetest moments in our lives.
Perhaps one of my favorite ornaments is a small, ragged stocking. On the white cuff, torn bits of paper from what used to be a question mark that had been glued on. Sticking out of the stocking is a paper note from my mama, explaining how she made the stocking when she was young and pregnant with me.
Which leads me to my second realization. Probably more important than what you put on your tree is the actual act of decorating it in the first place. What good are all those ornaments if you don't experience the sweetness of the fond memories that accompany them? And what good is it if you don't relive those sweet moments in life with the ones you love? With each ornament we revealed tonight, someone would say "Oh, I remember making this one with Shelby," or "I remember when Nathan made this in Mrs. Monza's kindergarten class," or "This one was made just for me by my Aunt Annie in 1982."
With each ornament, I realized that I almost missed the opportunity to pass onto my kids the most important history lesson they will ever learn. Their own. And that of their parents. And their grandparents. And their great-grandparents. There is a legacy on that tree that is like no other.
So while the origin of the Christmas tree may have started out secular, I believe it has become one of the most important and imperative traditions in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. Because of Jesus' birth, we have the opportunity and freedom to worship him in so many ways this time of year. Because of those who came before us; who shared with us their stories; who risked their lives to tell the world about Christ; and those who came before them or would come after them, we have the opportunity and freedom to relive that history each and every year.
One of the many ways we can bring glory to God is by spending time with the ones God has put into your life, continuing with the tradition of passing your history and the history of Jesus from generation to generation, and allowing his spirit to enter into your heart even when you don't seem to have the energy to receive it.
How great it is that we have the opportunity and freedom to be able to keep our history and that of our savior alive. We are, in a sense, creating our own legacy with each and every light we burn, song we sing, ornament we hang, and moment we share.
May you experience the spirit of Christmas that God has intended all along.