I was on hold with an artificial Christmas tree company, listening to festive hold music while not feeling festive at all. Their glossy catalog had arrived in the mail in early November and I decided to splurge on a giant Christmas tree for our living room, thinking that it would bring some joy and light to a year that has felt dark and heavy.
I could already picture the tree. It was going to be magnificent. I had chosen their “king” of Christmas trees – a perfectly realistic replica of an “Aspen Fir” that would look as if it had just been brought down from the Rockies. The downswept needles would be soft, with a deep forest green color. Each branch, cast from real branches, would mimic the texture of those found on real evergreens. Twinkling white fairy lights would dazzle and delight. I had bought beautiful ornaments in gold and silver to adorn the tree. Magnolia flowers and glittery eucalyptus branches would add elegance to its 13 feet of beauty. I imagined our family sitting around it like a Hallmark moment. I wanted that moment.
The tree was supposed to arrive within 5-10 days. It had been 27. I was mad. Calling the company had become part of my daily routine. On this day, a customer service agent answered and I explained the situation yet again. “Well, we can’t find your tree,” she said. “We think it accidentally shipped to Indiana, but we aren’t sure. And now we’re sold out of that tree. At this point, we will cancel the order.”
My heart sank. It was nearly Christmas. My hopes of beautiful family evenings spent next to this tree were quickly fading away. I got off the phone feeling defeated and started making dinner, informing the girls and my husband that we would have to think of another plan for the Christmas tree this year.
As I angrily chopped vegetables, I heard the girls’ little feet going back and forth from their playroom to the garage. After a little while, they called us over. In the middle of the playroom was a small, 3-foot tall tree. My parents had given it to the girls when they cleaned out their garage years ago. The tree was dusty. You could see the shiny brown center pole through the sparse branches. The green needles had a plastic sheen, and the tree was leaning toward one side because of its bent base. The girls had cut a star out of paper, colored it with gold crayon and put it on the top of the tree. They had decorated the branches with bright red ball ornaments that I had used to fill a centerpiece one year. The tree was plugged in, revealing a few lights that flickered dimly.
Seeing this Christmas tree – not the perfect one I had imagined, but the one that we had – reminded me of the many ways our plans and expectations for this year have changed. The year has not been perfect. The holiday season arrives at a time when there is deep tension and division within our country. During a season we typically enjoy with others, we are physically distanced from family and friends because of the public health crisis. We are collectively grieving the loss of what life used to be like, as well as the opportunities and experiences we missed out on this year.
Yet in this room, with my little family nearby, with our health preserved, with food on our table, with meaningful work and a small, lopsided Christmas tree decorated with love, I see what we have this year. And it is a perfect Hallmark moment.
Happy Holidays to you all.