My little scraggly artificial tree dates back to 2008, and symbolizes a remarkable acceptance on my part. That things change.
I’m not purist about too many things, but Christmas trees had been a hold-out. Something about selecting a cut tree off a lot, dragging it home and spending hours setting it up and daring to hope it will stay standing plants the spirit of Christmas in me like nothing else.
“Real” trees bring back memories of my childhood and pre-Christmas searches on a West Texas ranch with family friends to find and cut down a suitable tree. My daddy stringing lights, and us waiting impatiently to hang the ornaments, then standing back to gaze at the splendor of our decorated tree.
Those memories morph into later Christmases when my three boys who seemed to agree on so little at any other time becoming a solid team and getting the tree up and the lights strung.
In a season when so many things stand out as special, I love walking into the house and smelling the sweet aroma of a pine tree, or sipping tea in the room where the tree is lit, and just simply enjoying its presence.
But 2008 was a Christmas of self-preservation. My youngest was deployed to Iraq. My middle son had moved to Las Vegas, and would be spending Christmas with his new love’s family. My oldest, was working at a restaurant in San Angelo, and he and his family would spend Christmas day in Brownwood with me – driving there early Christmas morning and home early the day after.
So I modified. Now when I say artificial tree, it’s almost a sacrilege to a good – looks perfect and real – Christmas tree. No. Patti Jordan gave ear to my quest to simplify, and helped me make the 180 degree turn-around. She found — at a close out sale at a Christmas store — a 4-foot-tall tree with (I’m guessing) 50 straight-out spindly branches, too sparse to have lights. Instead its design would be worthy of hand-strung garlands of popcorn and cranberries.
I elected to spend several evenings listening to Christmas music and cutting out simple white paper doves with heart-shaped wings for ornaments. On the little tree’s topmost branch, I secured a rag-doll angel with wings sewn from my mama’s old white damask tablecloth and a garb made from my grandma’s embroidered dresser scarves.
I loved it then. And love it now. It takes about a half hour to stand up and decorate, and another half to take down and put away. What’s not to love?
Truth is, I’m afraid I’ve gotten old and become impatient with the hassles — especially the self-imposed ones.
I have a sort of “perfect Christmas” fantasy where everything just sort of pulls itself together. But there’s the non-fantasy, too. The appreciation of participation. Discovering anew those things of Christmases past like the white paper doves, a reminder to me of how thankful I am my boy made it home safe. There’s the collection of Santa mugs I’ve assembled over the years; God’s Eye ornaments my boys made from ice cream sticks and colored yarn when they were in elementary school; and shiny glass ornaments that once hung on my grandmother’s tree. All good memories of times that seemed tough, but are transformed in retrospect.
You’ve got to have patience, I tell my granddaughter.
And you’ve got to have faith.
Christmas exists truly on the premise that the ordinary was made extraordinary. And that’s something I believe in. Something I hope I never forget.
But here’s what I’ve learned, coming into my 64th Christmas — when like almost always — things have changed. And there was no prediction last Christmas of what those changes could possibly be. What was, was. What is, is. Sometimes the twains meet, and mingle, which is good. Sometimes the tradition is worth clinging to, because it will be the last Christmas when we’re just this way. And sometimes those traditions need to be tossed about just a bit, changed to welcome someone or something new.
Christmas comes, and it goes, and before you know it the next one will be on the horizon. You never know what will be the very thing that makes that one memorable, or lovely, but you have to be open to the idea that it can be and fill that Christmas cup of joy up to its very brim.
You take a little hope, a full measure of faith and a lot of love, and you enjoy your Christmas present.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, whose columns are published on Sundays in the Brownwood Bulletin and Thursdays in the San Angelo Standard-Times. The columns are unique for each paper, but this column is a changed version of the column she wrote for the Dec. 8, 2016 edition of the Standard-Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.