We have taken down the old tree from the attic. This small, four foot tree made of aluminum was purchased forty nine years ago in Bangkok, Thailand, where there were no Christmas trees to be had. Each year since we have assembled it vowing that next year we would get a real tree. We never will, of course, because this old tree is part of our history as a family.
All across the world families are bringing out parts of their history. Menorahs are lovingly polished, Kwanzaa candles set out, crèches are lifted carefully from storage boxes. Whatever name given to the occasion, it is a time for the gathering of family and friends.
It’s been said that this joyful, festive time is full of anticipation for children while for adults there is memory, so I suppose it’s natural to look back across the years. Flickering through the shadow box of Time, I can see myself small, eyes wide open at midnight, waiting, determined that this year I was going to see Santa slide down that chimney. But… how did he get past me to fill my stockings? And… now, the warm scents of a fireplace and the sound of my Dad attempting to sing a carol…
Memory is a wonderful time machine. It can transport me in a blink-flash of time from my own childhood to that of our boys. There they are, noses pressed to the window convinced that the marks out in the snow came from Santa’s sleigh. Seconds later, they are grown and married men, and our oldest son and our new daughter have surprised us by coming home on Christmas day! And then here is a baby, our first grandchild, trailing tinsel as he toddles about with a red ribbon in his hair…
Small, crumpled ribbon,
I remember who wore it
Many years ago!
Such memories are our most prized ornaments. There are others, equally precious but bittersweet. At this time of year I most keenly miss the dear ones I have lost. I crave that hug, yearn to hear that familiar laughter. The hand I once held is no longer here, and though I smile to remember the happy times we shared, at the back of the mind is the thought that memories are now all I have. No wonder that this is not a joyful time for many who wait for news in hospital rooms, or wonder how to pay next month’s bills, or worry about loved ones in harm’s way far from home. Then, there is our world, our imperfect, damaged world where some nations struggle with debt and other nations are ravaged by war or famine or poverty. How to reconcile these realities with holiday songs of peace and good cheer?
Well, we do our level best, and sometimes we succeed. This year, I’ve heard of children saving their allowances to buy toys for other kids, of anonymous donors who pay off layaway items for families that have come upon hard times. The rest of us donate what we can in time and goods and money, take home hopeful slips tacked to ‘angel trees.’ We sing the remembered songs, open gifts, hold loved ones close as we light our candles.
For isn’t the blessing of this time really about light? The light of Hanukkah candles remembering oil that bravely burned in ancient lamps; the brilliance of a star shining over humble Bethlehem; the glow of Kwanzaa candles with their message of the seven principles. Their light says that our hearts must lift and sing with this hope: someday there will be healing and homecoming and joy for all, the world will truly be one family, and the lion can finally lie down with the lamb.