I am just going to state it right up front.
I love having a real live Christmas tree.
But like some sort of variety show parody of a Charles Dickens classic, getting our tree up and ready for decorating is annually “the best of times and the worst of times.”
This year was no exception.
We found a tree we all liked without too much debate or stress; we stuffed it into the trunk of our Honda Accord and drove it home; and we extricated it from the car and maneuvered it into the living room.
So far, so good.
Each year I try to brace myself for this next phase.
Each year I tell myself I should chillax and “go with the flow.”
Each year, the process of getting the tree into the stand in a non-leaning and best-side-forward posture tests my patience and “ability to work well with others.”
And once we get past that part of the process…there are the lights.
I think it is precisely because this tradition is so important to us and we take it so seriously that we allow ourselves to get testy and short-tempered with one another.
This matters, darn it!
It matters whether the tree leans an eighth of an inch to the back left.
It matters whether there is a bare spot with no lights when you squint your eyes and look at the tree.
We’ve got to get it right, man!
Our “perfect Christmas” hangs in the balance for crying out loud!
For the record, let me just cut to the chase and state that once we get the ornaments on and sit back and look at our tree, it is always the “prettiest tree we ever had.”
Once we adorn it with small symbolic items that represent places we have been, people we love, and earlier stages of our lives, the tree helps create a sense of preparation for celebration – a sense of belonging, identity, and tradition.
With the tree up and with lights strung, there are still some basic preparations to be made before we get to the point of “putting on the ornaments.”
As I opened up the boxes of ornaments this year, I pulled out the zip-lock baggie containing the ornament hooks/hangers.
They were a jumbled, tangled, twisted clump of metal.
Before we could adorn the tree and create some beauty, we would have to address and deal with the tangled mess of hooks.
I took some time and separated out the hooks – laying them out so that we could pick them up, match each with an ornament and decorate our tree.
Un-tangled hooks in hand, we were ready to begin.
We have a tradition.
The first ornament we hang on the tree each year is a simple white cross. My Grandma Catherine made it.
It goes on first – to remind us that, although we are celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, we ultimately celebrate his birth because we know about his death and about his resurrection.
It reminds us that we can be imperfect and yet forgiven and forgiving. (Even if we lean an eighth of an inch to the back left or right.)
First things first.
This ornament prepares the way for all the others – the bell given to me by my kindergarten teacher; an ornament our son made when he was three; the hand-painted ornament that was a gift from my husband’s Sunday School teacher; the wooden cross our niece brought back from a mission trip to Central America; ornaments we picked up on trips to Boston, the Outer Banks and Gettysburg; wooden ornaments from my time living in Germany; and ornaments from our first Christmas together.
As with our Christmas tree, so it can be in life.
Sometimes life gets tangled up and messy.
Sometimes when things are important to us we can be impatient and judgmental.
Sometimes, before we can create beauty, belonging, identity and tradition, we have to address and deal with some tangled messes.
If we put first things first and if we forgive and accept forgiveness, we can untangle our messy situations, relationships and circumstances.
So far, so good.