Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Healing Holiday Tree

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Yule, one of my favorite traditions of the season is decorating the evergreen tree. I celebrate both holidays, sitting vigil through the long night of Yule, the Winter Solstice. Dawn means that the coming days will lengthen and the longest night of darkness is over. The Christmas I celebrate is a cultural one. It has become bigger than its Christian meaning in America and its roots are twined in pagan practices of Winter Solstice. Whatever you believe and however you practice, the magic and spirit of the holiday is alive in all rites and rituals of the season, including caroling, office holiday parties, and secret Santa gift exchanges.
As I get older I find I need the magic more. I look forward to the holidays as the time of year when people hum carols under their breath, smile at cashiers and clerks and are generally in a good mood. It’s the time of year when I can look someone in the eye and the chance of them reciprocating is high. Christmas brings out the best in us, and we dream of peace on earth and goodwill to all men.
That dream is important to me and I use that energy to buoy my heart against the number of loved ones each year who are no longer living, who can no longer celebrate the holiday with me. Every year, I miss my grandparents more and more, not less like I hoped. You love the people you love, and for some of them distance of space or time doesn’t change that feeling.
It would be easy, I think, to be so overwhelmed with missing them to not care about the holidays. My grandma and grandpa were that special. So, putting up our Christmas tree every year is a moving meditation I do to work through that sadness, backwards, into the joy of every happy memory I built with them as the foundation of my own holiday spirit.
When we were young children, every year when the holidays rolled around, my dad would bring the artificial evergreen tree up from the gravel and dirt basement and my mom would pull two large cardboard storage boxes out of their bedroom closet. The boxes were patterned with large orange blossoms a la the seventies. Inside their walls lived our ornaments, which we put on the tree together.
My mother would put on the delicate ornaments and then we would take turns picking a favorite ornament to hang. When I was a little girl, I loved the family day of decorating the Christmas tree. My favorites were these white lantern tops, with colored gels that sat over lights on the strand. I loved those little lanterns. But more than that, I loved the event of being together.  It’s what Christmas is really about.
Putting the tree together still holds that joy for me, that act of setting the evergreen up in the house, of bringing nature indoors. We have a thirty-five year old artificial tree that we are recycling until it falls apart. After setting it up and wrapping thick garland in between the branches, you’d never guess at its age. I unwrap the ornaments from their boxes and spread them out on the coffee table. It’s a living collage of my childhood and the transformations I’ve undergone through and into adulthood.
I have a small angel with a plastic head and a white crocheted dress/body. She has brown pigtails and a small halo on her head. My sister had a similar one with a ponytail. She’s been a part of my Christmas tree for as long as I can remember, so long that her origins are unknown to me. Then there is the collection of apple themed ornaments gifted to me by my grandparents over the years. Some are dated, some have my name on them. I linger over these ones, remembering receiving them, remembering the laughter in the kitchen, the warm food and the card games afterwards.
Among our ornaments are an assortment of stars and moons from our early years, transforming into birch bark woodland creatures and plumed birds. There are ornaments crafted and given by old friends as well as handmade ones from family members. Each one has a story. Each one has a name and face behind it. Each one reminds me of the people I love, whose lives have touched mine.
As I hang these ornaments on my tree, I call those memories into the tips of my fingers and place them with purpose. Where do they want to go? It’s a dance I do to remember… to remember my grandparents, faraway friends and to remember that joy and love. To remind myself in the dark days of winter that there is joy and light to be had. My tree becomes a living memory. It becomes a beacon of hope.
            Everyone has their own style of decorating the tree. Mine looks like a quilting of memories, some nestled in each other and some taking center on their own. But the weaving of time and treasures becomes a spell that lifts my heart. We humans come and go like tides rolling in and out. But as I sit in a dark room, sipping hot cocoa and taking in the beauty of our tree, it is a light that can outshine any sorrow.

I cannot gaze upon it without feeling gladness in my heart, without looking forward to all the holidays yet to come.

Relevant Posts:
Poppets for Grief (posted December 15, 2010)
Christmas Legacy of Dick and Donna (posted December 22, 2010)

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