For years, the holiday season didn’t start until we hiked deep into the tree farm and cut our tree. There’d be a marathon pre-visit to choose and tag our tree followed up by several swears by the adults when we cut it down. We’d drag it to our non-truck, and bind it up so it didn’t fall, and drive carefully home, so we could enjoy language more colorful than the lights which were painstakingly tested and untangled.

Eventually, the tree would be up, blanketing the house in pine. Nothing beats the experience of the real Christmas tree. Once or twice, we found a tree with a bird’s nest. It was a special treat which now seems just a bit mean. Sorry homeless bird.

Sure, there were some disadvantages to the real tree, such as the spiders, and stepping on pine needles that stood at attention somewhere in the rug. But the tree was the official start and end of the Christmas season. My mom got us an ornament each year, so that by when we moved out, we’d have several to start our own trees. Each ornament has a special story.

I am now grown up and live in my own house. For years, we got a real tree, too. It was something I never compromised. Until…I kept getting sick. Every year at Christmas I got sick. I’d get a nice sinus infection, a raging cold, and I’d be miserable. I figured I made too many cookies, had too much holiday cheer, or maybe I was burning out from the first half of the year of teaching.

“Have you considered your tree?” Mom said. “There’s a lot of mold in a tree.” Turns out she had the same problem. Get rid of the tree? Unthinkable. Inconceivable…

The next year, it happened again. The following year, having noted the coincidence, I conceded to “try” a fake tree for one year. Miracle of miracles, I wasn’t sick. I enjoyed the Yule. I partook in the holiday cheer. I admitted, in public, my mom was right. And I saved a copay or two at the doctors.

Mom made this in 1983.

Mom made this in 1983.

I do miss my real tree, but not the stress of cutting it, hiking it home, and putting it up. We went one step further this year… a three-piece pre-lit tree. It took exactly three minutes to put up and didn’t require one “f” word. That’s the definition of holiday cheer.

This one's from when Rusty was a baby. There's one for his sister Carol next to it.

This one’s from when Rusty was a baby. There’s one for his sister Carol next to it.

I took the ornaments out of the box. I put them on the tree with Declan, and I told the story of each ornament. The “first year” ornaments, Daddy’s special ornaments, the train ornaments, the funny squirrel. The rainbow balsa wood ornament my mom made the year she didn’t have money to buy us our yearly ornaments, and the salt-dough ornaments I’d made in the Great Recession when circumstances were the same for me.

TrainThe ornaments showed Christmases in good times and in bad, and how the true meaning of the holiday always shines through in terms of the love of family, friends, and the miracles God and the universe bestow upon us, presents notwithstanding, if we are attentive enough to listen. Turns out, the Christmases with the least presents have the most blessings of them all.

Dough ornamentOur ornaments, this year, are on a fake tree, where they will be every year until they become someone else’s ornaments, for them to decide. Our tree is beautiful because each little bangle and ball holds a memory of love, even if they are hung on PVC branches made in China and not a home-grown Douglas Fir. I’ll look at them and smile. Declan will take them down when I’m pretending not to look and enjoy them. And then I’ll sneak up behind him and tell him the story of each one one more time.