“O Tannenbaum” by Nat King Cole

Today is the day we start decorating for Christmas at my house. I like to decorate for all the various holidays of the year, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that the other decorations are substitutes for those linked to the big event that has now arrived.

Unearthing lights and beads, opening boxes holding beloved treasures, gazing at ornaments imbued with special meanings–in many ways, decorating for the holidays is a foreshadowing of the big day itself. When the holidays are over, I always dread the dismantling of the decorations–storing away so many beloved figurines and items that symbolize beautiful memories. It seems almost cruel that these things (which I know are just things, but still seem more alive than regular things) hide away for 11 months of the year. I do realize that their limited duration contributes to their special importance. Still, part of me wishes I could just keep everything in place all year round. (In fact, we do keep a few things out for the entire year to serve as ongoing reminders of the Christmas spirit and to tide us over until the next year’s noel is upon us.)

Of course, the centerpiece is the Christmas tree. The most beautiful tree I remember was not from my childhood or one that I myself had in any of my grown-up homes. For many years, I worked in a different part of the city than I do today, and I used to pass through a building that always had the most gorgeous tree. Every year, the first day that I walked into that building and saw that tree back in its place in the middle of the huge atrium, my eyes would fill and my heart would skip a beat.

I remember seeing that tree the Christmas when I was several months along in my pregnancy with my son, gazing up at it and knowing my life was about to undergo major changes and wondering what the following year would be like. And I remember showing it that following Christmas to the little baby who was too young to really understand but was fascinated by it all the same.

Life has moved on since–I no longer work near that building and don’t know if they still put up that gorgeous tree. The little baby is now a boy of almost 9, clinging by a thread to childhood. In a similar way to how I wish I could preserve Christmas all year round, part of me wishes I could freeze my life to be a repetitive loop of now. It’s been hard enough to let go of my own youth. With every year that progresses, my link to that youth through my own children becomes more tenuous.

I learned this summer, when I fought turning 40 with every fiber of my being and lost, that I cannot stop time or preserve the present. The best I can do is maintain in my heart the spirit of wonder, anticipation, appreciation, expectation, and hope that I had as a little girl. I see today these qualities in my son and his young friends and so want them never to lose them.

Certainly, the religious symbolism of the Christmas tree — its representation of an eternal life beyond this world — is obvious. For me, the tree embodies the overall elusive qualities of Christmas and part of the holiday’s wondrous appeal. Both the tree and the holiday remain forever alive, always in bloom, eternally holding promise, never growing old.

“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!
They are green when summer days are bright,
They are green when winter snow is white.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!”

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