Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree!

Yesterday, we put up the Christmas tree. Yes, it was already the second Sunday of Advent. But no, I wasn't cramming. This was a deliberate attempt at taking my sweet time to savor Christmas.

Many years ago, I wouldn't have been caught without a file folder marked "Christmas Theme for The Year" in the middle of September. It contained ideas for decor that would coordinate from the tree down to wrappers and bows and trim. I brought it with me when I went around shopping as early as October. By the first week of November, our house would be holiday- ready. There was the tree with Moon and Stars in goldleaf, matched with gifts of gold Hershey's kisses in clear jars tied with golden bows. I wrote Christmas messages on parchment paper in gold ink calligraphy and used these to wrap every gift we sent out. It was our first year of marriage and we had wished everyone a golden year of prosperity ahead. Then there was the Fruit and Nut Christmas, where made-in-china berries and pears were painstakingly tied with bows of green grosgrain. My husband helped me do this one morning, and boy did he have fine motor skills! That year, we hoped for a fruitful year ahead while giving out fruitcake in lovely copper-colored tin tied with ribbons that coordinated with the ones on the tree. When the Asian financial crisis struck and I was neck-deep at work with no time to do hand-made decor, we had our Christmas Card tree. I got angel-inspired blank cards and wrote one-word wishes like Peace, Love, Kindness, Joy... on each one of them, plain and starkly simple to reflect the times. Cards designed by indigent children were all we gave out that year, with our Christmas gift budget going to charity.

Those were the Christmases of the early years of my marriage, when everything I did had to be Martha-Stewart-perfect. I was working as a designer, and my obsessive-compulsive tendencies went on full swing during the season. It was, I thought then, a good thing.

Eventually, we had to pack away our tree, never to be seen for a long while. We had moved to another house that did not need another tree. Our tree had been classified redundant. So it stayed in its box in my parents' house, in a dark closet somewhere with other odds and ends that people keep when they're not sure they want to part with them. For a long time, it sat there, gathering dust. The decor was stored and classified into separate boxes, rotting away as bugs of all sorts found their way there.

In the beginning, when September would come, I would find myself pining for our tree. But soon our first child, a daughter, was born. And I started to forget about it...

Then, two years ago, when we had our son, we moved to a new, old house. No tree there. No inspiring architectural features. No proper plumbing either. It was a mess that no interior designer worth her license would dare take on as a project. My husband and I were so exhausted just having to repair broken windows, sand and stain chipped floors and replace doorknobs among many other things that needed to be fixed, while changing nappies, feeding the baby and coping with the growing demands of his kindergarten sister. The tree didn't even exist in my sub-conscious mind.

Until one day in November, when we were more settled ... my mom called to ask if I wanted my tree back. Oh, we have a tree! I couldn't even remember how tall it was, or what kind of leaves it had. Frankly, I was half-hoping it would be in bad shape so I can find an excuse to get a new one. After all, the decor, as she had reported, were in various stages of decomposition.

The tree was still in its original box. I had mixed feelings of anticipation and anxiety as I dusted and peeled off the packing tape that had sealed it for seven long years. But as I opened the box , a flood of memories transported me back to the day my husband and I bought it in a downtown market far from the suburban neighborhood where we lived. It took us an hour to get there, and nearly another hour to find parking. We had fought. He was extremely upset at having to lug around a huge box through throngs of sweaty people shopping for Christmas. I wanted to buy it there because it was cheaper than the ones sold at the air-conditioned mall near our house. He said it was not worth the trouble. We had coffee. Then we walked some more to the parking lot. By the time we got to the car, we were too tired to fight. At home that night, I opened the box and he set it up -- the first tree of our marriage-- on our first Christmas together. No one was saying anything. I took out our new lights and strung them around ever so carefully as he pretended not to mind me. Then we plugged it. For some reason, gazing at that ornamentless tree in its simple magnificence melted our tiredness away. We smiled and looked at each other. We were not going to file for divorce anymore. It wasn't legal anyway.

So now this fifteen-year-old tree, on its third Christmas in this house, is our tree of Unity. And decor? I kind of winged it -- finding things that I thought would go well together, I closed my eyes and just hoped I was right. The file folder had long been shredded. I no longer had the time, nor the energy to get obsessed. And it turns out to be a good thing.

Home at last, our tree now sits in one corner with glowing orbs of red and green stripes that I normally wouldn't buy, except I'm a mommy now and I know how the flickering lights delight my children. They oohhh and aahhh like very satisfied clients, the sparkle in their eyes brightening up the room even more. There are hand-sewn angels, but also Santa made of felt and yarn, then metallic balls in a hue of red that I personally do not like but mesmerize my little boy nonetheless. Berries, left over from last Christmas, which my daughter briefly puts on her hair for a fairy dance, are now strewn together with mittens made of checkered burlap that say "Season's Greetings". It's a country-hodge-podge tree, with no particular theme. And it's the best we've had so far.

The children were so taken with it they were on hyper-mode all afternoon. Yet, they patiently waited as the lights were wrapped around before they took turns hanging ornaments assigned to them. There was so much singing, hopping and goofing around, we had an instant tree-trimming party! But no, we aren't done yet. The star is not up. We are saving it for the night before Christmas when my husband shall do the honors of topping off this beloved tree.

What a relief not to have to set up everything all at once. Indeed, Advent is the season of waiting. And this Christmas tree, our old new Christmas tree, was definitely worth the wait!


  1. That's a beautiful tree. I like your comment about OCD tendencies, Martha Stewart makes me feel inadequate! I've stopped watching her! ;)

  2. Wow! You have so many traditions that make this time of the year special for you and your family. I am sure your children enjoy it just as much as you do. Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. Surprisingly, they love everything we've been doing Blia. It inspires me to continue making this time really special for them! And yes Suzanne, we don't have to be Martha to do it. :)