I grew up with this little ceramic Christmas tree. For as long as I can remember, my mom would pull this tree out of an old electric coffee pot box every December, unwrap all the newspaper around it, and place it on our antique parlour table with claw feet and turn on the switch. And Christmas would begin.
There are certain comforting images in my memory that just say “home” to me and remind me of my happy childhood Christmases. This is one of them. There are also memories of tinsel (the REAL kind, made of metal, that my mother insisted we carefully separate strand by strand), red and green pipe cleaners carefully wrapped around No. 2 pencils and turned into snowflakes and ornaments, and choir boys (I’ll muster up a story on this one later).
Some day, hopefully years from now, this ceramic Christmas tree will come to me. (I’m putting this out there to give fair warning to my baby brother, just in case he has any ideas.) I have a special attachment to this tree and I thought I would share a different kind of Christmas story with you.
Many years ago (actually it was a lifetime), I lived in a situation where the holidays were hard. Seven years worth of hard. I kept a lot of secrets from my family and friends. I sent out lovely Christmas cards, newsy Christmas letters filled with uplifting thoughts, and beautiful photos of my beautiful looking little family in our beautifully decorated home in front of a very pretty tree. But they were very hard and very unhappy years and the picture I projected was a lie.
I spent far too much effort trying to cover up the truth of my life during those years and to make sure that what other people saw looked picture perfect. My home was beautiful. My hair and make up were perfect. My daughter was always dressed in cute and stylish clothing. I drove a very nice sports car. I hostessed wonderful parties. This was years before social media and blogs and smart phones, long before you could crop and photoshop pictures with your digital camera to put a glow on them and create FB and Instagram posts that make you look like Joanna Gaines and Martha Stewart. It took a lot of effort and energy. Some days it felt like a full time job.
And then it was just us – my little girl and me. We moved into an apartment and I started over. It was a relief. It was also hard, and lonely, but a different kind of hard for a different set of reasons. A friend said to me, “Welcome back to the Land of the Living” and that’s a pretty accurate description of where I found myself. But it was still hard.
I couldn’t get to my parent’s home that first Christmas I was alone, and I was pretty despondent about it, but I was determined to keep what my dad referred to as A Stiff Upper Lip. I tried to pack as many fun activities into the season for my daughter – visits with Santa, hand painting wrapping paper on our little kitchen floor, shopping for the perfect Christmas dress, baking cookies, finding snow globes, and our very first trip to the opera together. I didn’t have a big beautiful home any longer to decorate, but I decked out my apartment to the nines. That very first Christmas, I bought a $10 tree from a Safeway parking lot, took the top off my convertible, put it in the front seat and held onto it for dear life as I drove it back to my apartment in the pouring rain to lug it up the stairs.
There in front of my door was a UPS box. I picked it up and put it on the kitchen counter to deal with later. Putting that tree up in my living room was an all-day project – it toppled over several times before I finally got it straight and secure. And I was trying very hard to stay merry …
The next day I came home from lunch, spied the unopened box, and opened it. It was my mother’s ceramic Christmas tree, the one from my happy childhood, the one that said “it’s Christmas, joy to the world, let’s celebrate!” Carefully packed up in layer upon layer of bubble wrap, with no note. Naturally I burst into tears.
My mother knew.
That first Christmas I spent single was also my first Christmas with the Wobbe Clan. My daughter’s godmother and my childhood best friend had recently married a Wobbe and invited us to join them for a Christmas potluck. I almost didn’t go. There are 12 brothers and sisters in the current Wobbe Clan, and about 1700 nieces and nephews, and I met everyone of them that day except one. (I did meet him eventually, a few years later, and he seems pretty happy about it.) 😉
There are two things I am very mindful of during this Pandemic Christmas 2020 that I would like to share with you. The first is this … Things are not always as they appear, and not everyone you know is okay right now. Don’t believe everything you see on Facebook and Instagram. Regardless of what you might see from the outside looking in, even if you remove COVID from the picture, and the accompanying isolation and hardships it has rained down on so many people, not everyone you know is okay right now.
Some of you, I know who you are and I know your story. I have friends who have lost spouses and children and parents and marriages and loved ones this year, a year in which we cannot physically comfort one another as we would want to and as we should. I have friends who are losing their businesses and their livelihoods as I write this. I have friends who are battling invisible demons that strategically choose this season to really ramp up and attack with a vengeance. Not everyone I know is okay right now.
I wish I could send you my mother’s ceramic Christmas tree right this very moment so that you could set it somewhere in your living room and light it up. I realize it might not bring you the same kind of comfort it gave me so many years ago that first lonely Christmas in the year I started my life over. But it wasn’t really about the tree. It was my mother, someone who knows me well and through, who was saying in her own way, “I know.” And even though she could not be with me, she was, and it gave me great comfort.
Here’s the second thing I want you to know … life does go on. It does. And love endures. Where we are at right now is not where we will stay. There are new chapters waiting to be written in each of our lives. Chapters filled with adventure and joy and new beginnings, regardless of how old we are or the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. Trust me on this. There are new chapters ahead in the book of your life and they are worth plowing through this season to get to. I want you to stay the course.
There is something else my mother taught me, many years ago, at another time of great personal heartache. A scripture verse in the 30th book of Psalms in the Old Testament that says simply, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” She said I could hold onto that promise, and I did. She was right.
There are many things I wish were different right now, for people I care about and for myself. I accept what I must and take joy where I find it. Time and trials and this very tree have taught me that it really doesn’t take much to light up a dark place, and we can all make more light than we think we can. We can. Really.
And that, my friends, is the story of my mother’s ceramic Christmas tree, and why I will duke it out to get it …
Wishing you the promise of great Comfort, Joy and Light in this most unusual Christmas in this most unusual year. I love you all, Cindy