In 64 years I’ve never come to December 22 without having had a Christmas tree. Nate and I were married on Thanksgiving weekend, 1969, so Christmas was right on top of us when we returned to our small apartment after a four day honeymoon. He was in law school, and we owned virtually nothing. Our three small rooms were empty except for a card table, two chairs and a Murphy bed that pulled down from a closet.
One day in mid-December I said, “Hey, we just have to get a Christmas tree!” While on our honeymoon in downtown Chicago, we’d each purchased a tree ornament for the other with a plan to add one ornament per person per year until our tree was full. We had only two ornaments in 1969, but by 1979, we figured, we’d have twenty!
Before we chose a time to go tree shopping, Nate came home from class dragging a surprise up the three flights of stairs to our apartment. Knowing I loved surprises, he knocked on the door and said, “Open up for Santa!” There he stood with a Christmas tree as tall as he was and a smile a mile wide.
When I saw it, I burst into tears, confusing him completely. We’d been married only two weeks and by comparison to today, knew very little about each other. What I’d neglected to tell him in reference to buying a Christmas tree was it had always been a big family affair during my childhood. We never got a tree until all of us were available to go hunting together, and we looked at and touched every tree in the white-bulb-lit lot before deciding on our purchase.
Once at home, my family would put the Lennon Sisters Christmas LP on the hi fi, fix hot chocolate and string the lights in preparation for unpacking the ornaments, each one accompanied by a memory to tell. The task was shared in every way, complete with picture-taking. If my dad had arrived dragging a tree through the front door on his way home from work, we’d all have considered it full-on rebellion!
Poor Nate. He had no idea. He did his best to understand as I blubbered out the reason for my tears, and eventually I rallied when he promised forever-after we’d go tree shopping together. For 39 years he kept his promise, even though we had lots of kids who were always growing older making it increasingly difficult to buy the tree as a group.
As for our ornament plan, that first year I chose a fragile blown glass sphere that didn’t even make it to the second Christmas tree in one piece. Nate’s choice was a durable plastic ornament I always called “the stoplight” because of its resemblance. We still have it.
This week Nelson and I wondered whether or not we should get a Christmas tree. Most of his siblings were working in the Chicago area, and we were in Michigan, traveling toward them on the weekends. While we were trying to decide, I said, “I don’t feel much like having a big, well-decorated tree this year, although the lights are comforting.” We weren’t sure what to do, as we aren’t sure about so many things lately.
We decided to compromise by saying “yes” to a Christmas tree but not the kind we’d always had, an eight-to-ten foot evergreen, thick and full all around. We’d choose a smaller model and find it somewhere in the woods ourselves. The process took only a few minutes, and our tree was “cut down” with a pruning snips. The task wasn’t complicated with a trunk the width of a thumb.
Nelson constructed a tiny wooden stand from pieces of kindling, and we clipped on a short string of 25 small bulbs, the thin branches barely able to hold them. As we stood back and surveyed our work, Nelson said, “It’s the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”
I looked at it and pronounced it the perfect Christmas tree. “It looks exactly like I feel.”
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 43:5)