Although it is only May (already), my thoughts turned today for some reason to an anecdote that I hold dear in my heart. When I was first married many many years ago, my husband and I had so many wonderful discussions about how we would begin our lives together. Because we got married in September, it seemed that the holidays would arrive before we knew it. We began talking about our first Christmas Tree together, and we visited a local farm in New England, which has since closed, to find, tag, and cut down our own tree.
It sounded like such a fond memory even before we went to the farm, and it was every bit as wonderful as we thought it would be. There is something so tender about finding a tree together in the snow and dragging it off the field after going on a hayride or sleigh ride to get to the field in the first place. I think we even had the classic Hallmark cup of hot chocolate afterwards.
Some of our compromises that seemed like such difficult concessions at the time really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things I’m thinking now. It is so very easy to get caught up in the mundane at any stage of our lives, to give importance to the unimportant and somehow miss what is right before our eyes. I have learned since then that life is far too important to be taken so seriously. It doesn’t really matter to me whether we have garland or ribbon, tinsel or no tinsel, ornaments that all match or are mis-matched, or even Christmas lights that are all white or multi-colored, as long as we spend our Christmas season together with those that we love, laughing, baking cookies, and creating new memories and traditions while remembering the old ways fondly, too.
We decided somewhere along the way that we would have a photo ornament that represents each year that we have been married, in good times and in bad, and THAT is something I would decide to do all over again.
Our discussion at the time many years ago, however, turned to whether we would have a star or an angel on top of our first tree, as we set out to purchase our first ornaments together to decorate our tree. Growing up in the same city, there were many similarities, as well as differences, to our upbringings, but both households had an angel on top of the Christmas tree. That made that decision very easy, and an angel it was. While we were walking through the store to find the perfect angel to top our perfect tree, I remembered the angel that sat on top of the tree in the house I grew up in. Christmas was a special time for me, as I was the youngest child, and the youngest in our family had the privilege of being the one to put the very last decoration, the angel, on top of the tree. For years and years, my father lifted me up on his shoulders to accomplish this task. This made me feel like I was on top of the world, which I really was because my parents were the center of my world at the time.
Because my parents had moved out of state before we were married, there was no angel from my childhood to show my husband, as my parents were still using it on their tree in another state. I tried to find the words to describe to my husband how very beautiful the angel was, dressed in a gold dress with perfect pleats. The size of the angel was just perfect, too, neither too large nor too small. The angel’s hair, with it’s perfectly flowing and uniformly curled hairstyle was not like any more modern angel I had ever seen, either. The angel was, in fact, the most beautiful angel I had ever seen, and I would be hard-pressed to find anything at all that would compare in anyway to this angel from my childhood. We settled on a pretty angel, but she held no proverbial candle to the angel from my childhood in my mind.
Fast forward to a few years later. My parents sold their home and started using a smaller, table top tree, that many seniors use after growing tired of puttting the tree up and taking it down again in such a short amount of time, after having taken it up from the basement for many years, year after year. My parents decided when sorting through their decorations they would no longer need that it was very clear that the angel from my childhood should go to me. Time to pass down the baton, so to speak. One day when I went to visit them, my parents unexpectedly presented me with a cardboard box, flat and brown. I recognized the box immediately, as I removed the angel gently, very gently, from her resting spot between Christmases, before putting her on the tree each year. When I opened the box, I was surprised to see that the angel from my childhood was a little “worse for the wear” than I had expected, and the perfect pleats on her dress were a little imperfect. Her hairstyle was a little messy, and her arms were a bit bent. Not only was she a little old, my perfect angel wasn’t so perfect after all. In fact, I was shocked to see that she was a bit ugly, too. Her facial expression wasn’t nearly as beautiful as I had remembered, maybe even a little creepy, but I was oh so very grateful for the gift.
When I came to the realization that the angel wasn’t quite what I made her out to be in my mind all these years, I smiled. I realized that she was the most beautiful angel in the world on top of any tree that I had ever seen, mainly as a child, because of all the love, laughter, and happy memories at Christmas with my family that made her beautiful to me. While I can’t quite bring myself to put the angel on top of my tree now, I keep her in that same flat, rectangle, cardboard box from many years ago, among my present-day Christmas decorations. She serves as a reminder of where I have come from, who I came from, and what makes Christmas, and life, meaningful. I also have come to appreciate the need to see as much as we can through child-like eyes to see the beauty from time to time. Even if the angel is quite ugly, she is still so beautiful in so many ways, because of what she represents. And timeless memories of years past with those we love, even if deciding on unimportant things which seemed so important at the time, are priceless.
Life is good. Carpe diem, friends…………