The First Christmas

We always had a freshly cut Christmas tree. As a kid growing up on a farm with a lot of land in the U.P. of Michigan, trees were plentiful.  Of course, the chosen tree was never perfect and was often had only one good side but that didn’t matter because the not-so-perfect side would be against a wall or in a corner anyway. I can remember traipsing through deep snow with ax over one shoulder and a sled in tow that always turned out to be too small for the job. I don’t know why we never paid any attention to the trees in the summer and marked then which ones would be good to pick. Instead we would just set out on our cold, arduous adventure to find the best of the worst…it sometimes took hours.  One year dad brought the chain saw because he saw the top of a very large tree that he thought would be good.  It was a big old white pine that had few branches left toward the bottom but a full top.  As it turned out, the top was much bigger than thought from the ground and it took a significant amount of cutting to get it to fit into the house, and when we did it filled out almost the entire dining room.  That was the tree that the sock monkey was stuffed into…that is another story…

No matter the tree, the trimmings usually made up for the faults of the tree and by the time it was fully decorated we didn’t notice that it was not perfect.  Back in the day, (we’re talking 1970’s here), the typical decorations were very shiny and sparkly and colorful.  Add in the giant lights that you had to clip onto the branches and the streaming tinsel all over the place and you end up with something that is more akin to a disco ball than a Christmas tree. Perhaps that’s why the song “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” was so popular back then…?

On our very first Christmas together my wife and I went out and got a real tree to decorate. It wasn’t a very big one, about 5 feet tall. We shared the joy of picking out decorations and deciding on a theme for ‘our’ tree – it was simple, earthy, rustic, white lights…no tinsel. It was such a joy to be in our first house in our first few months of marriage sharing our first of now 22 Christmases. For the first week or so it was wonderful, then little by little the needles began to turn brown…first only a few then in droves till it was nearly bare. It still didn’t look too bad with all the decorations on it and we were too in love to really care too much anyway. We had our gifts underneath and were waiting eagerly for that first opening of the first Christmas gifts as a married couple. Coming home from a weekend at her parents…only a couple days before Christmas…we discovered a leak in our roof right above our very special tree. Not a little leak but the kind that eliminated what needles were left on the tree and soaking each and every gift that was underneath it! We recovered, but that was the first and last real tree we ever had. A few days after Christmas that year we went out and bought a brand spanking new factory made tree on an after holiday markdown…

Over the years I’ve learned that it’s not the tree that matters so much – whether it’s real or plastic with fancy decorations or simple homemade treasures – but what it’s there for.  For children it is there as a place to put gifts, and for most that is all that really matters.  As adults we understand this and want to give presents to our kids that will make them happy, keep them safe and warm, and make them feel cared about. If kids understood what is really going on they would see that what they really crave is to be loved and that is what the gifts truly are – a demonstration of just how much they are loved.  I don’t believe this sentiment is lost on the Good Lord, either.  On his very first Christmas, he decorated the sky with twinkling stars and angels proclaiming good news of great joy. I can imagine giant swirls of clouds and cosmic dust draped like garland around the expanse! Then He placed a big bright star on top of it all, calling attention to what was going on underneath on the earth below.  And we, like children, ought to be excited about that one gift that was placed under that heavenly tree so long ago – he is showing us just how loved we all are…

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