Oh, Christmas Tree, How I Love Thee

My earliest memories of Christmas are strong and sweet, and center around the tree: the sharp scent of pine, needles poking underfoot, colorful twinkling lights, lots and lots of tinsel falling like silvery waterfalls from overloaded branches.

And of course, mountains of presents stuffed underneath it and spilling out onto the floor of our tiny living room.

There were five of us kids. That’s a lot of presents. In our innocent eyes, the tree was the heart of our home for weeks. It was fantastic and beautiful. It was majestic. It was grand!

My parents understood. They didn’t have a lot of money but tried every year to create magic for us, even after our starry-eyed belief in Santa Claus faded.

We never took for granted the gifts we received. I know I loved every one.

Maybe it sounds a little strange and un-PC, but those gifts dazzled us. They made us feel special. It wasn’t the cost of the gifts it was the love my parents showered on us through the act of giving. Some of the gifts still resonate with me today.

One of the best was a big, beautifully illustrated book called The Snow Queen. I must have been about 6 or 7, and books were my favorite gifts. I remember vividly how that story scared me, thrilled me and affected me.

It’s a fairy tale about a boy and a girl who love each other as friends. It’s about a magic mirror that shatters, the shards embedding themselves in people’s hearts and minds. Some of those shards, “snow bees,” blow into the boy’s eyes and they change him. He becomes cruel and uncaring. A beautiful queen, the leader of the snow bees, lives in a palace of ice in the land of permafrost. It is magnificent and rich and beautiful and cold. The Snow Queen captures the boy and brings him to her palace. The little girl, heartbroken, goes to look for him, encountering along her long journey both evil and good. She remains steadfast in her mission. When she finds him, frozen in the palace, she cries. Her warm tears melt the ice around his body and in his heart, and he knows her again. He becomes his old, loving self.

I read that story so often I must have worn out the pages of the book. I had no idea back then that it was more than a simple story about a boy and a girl and a beautiful, wicked queen. It was about good and evil, the dark and light places in our souls.

And it was all about what’s important in life. It was about growing up, being led astray, getting lost and ultimately finding yourself again.

Which (sorta, kinda) brings me back to our childhood trees.

When I grew up the magic left me for awhile. I saw our old family trees for what I thought they were: pretty, but modest and plain. Just your old Douglas fir, not a “boutique” species (read: expensive).

No fancy ornaments. No designer toppers or custom tree skirts.

I wanted more. I wanted the best. I wanted my tree to be better and bigger and more beautiful. I wanted the schmancy ornaments and the designer look.

But you know what I learned? None of that matters. Not at all. It’s not the topper or the handmade ribbons or the one-ofa-kind ornaments that make the tree special.

It’s the love.