Now I have my own ornaments and stories to go with them. I somehow managed to hold on to a box of four glass baubles I got at some point in middle school, while shopping for Christmas presents with my best friend at the time. I can just see the store and how we went in looking for something entirely different. I spent a hefty part of my savings on these ornaments and a similar set that I offered my grandmother that Christmas (one of the very few presents she actually liked). They’ve miraculously survived the years and journeys and they went on every tree I’ve had ever since, even when they didn’t match the general colour scheme. I even have a couple of generic, worn out plastic ornaments from my high school boyfriend. I remember seeing them in a box at his place and liking them at the time – he simply gave them to me, because they were no longer having a Christmas tree. I still keep them, because they are from a person who once had a positive impact on my life. I’ve also given away ornaments from people whose temporary presence in my life left nothing but a bitter aftertaste…
No two ornaments were identical, they were snippets of different times and I remember wishing for one of those perfect trees you see on Christmas cards near a roaring fire. So once I had a chance to start fresh, with a tree of my own, I experimented. I went through the silver phase, than through a red one, followed by a red and silver one. Now… let’s just say I’m trying to stay within a looser colour scheme… I add a few new ornaments every year and I enjoy doing this. A very ornate tree was tacky, I was constantly told growing up. Well, then my tree is very tacky… and I couldn’t care less, I love it. I sent my mother a photo and she couldn’t help herself, “With all those lights and ornaments, isn’t that too much?” No, it’s just right. “Aren’t you afraid those glass baubles will break? Why not use only plastic ones?” Because I like the glass ones best, I like how those from the same set are very similar, but they can never be identical. “Well, it’s your tree… if that’s what you like…” I smile. She remembers our little battles about which ornament should go where as well. I would try to move hers, she always moved mine when I was a child.
This is why a pink tree or a new fashionable one each year will not find a place in my home. I always amuse myself when I surprise people with my festive Christmassy behaviour. It’s certainly not what’s expected from a cynical realist; and on top of that, I don’t apply the “less is more” rule when it comes to Christmas trees… The only fashion conviction I apply is that I have to like it.
The magic of the not so fashionable Christmas tree is that it makes you want to share it. Having someone dear next to you for a few peaceful moments is one way. Another is to offer or help someone else achieve a similar moment of peace and gratitude. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t break into people’s homes to decorate when they’re asleep. But I have offered small Christmas trees to a few people I was sure would enjoy them and I decorated those trees for or with them. What I’ve learnt is that it’s not only about financial issues; it’s also about needing someone to be there in those moments, it’s about loneliness being too painful and memories of the past too powerful. It’s also about approval and understanding.
Trivial as it may sound, holding on to these little Christmas traditions of mine has grounded me, has offered me solace and hope in times when I was spiralling desperately. I look at the tree and remind myself that in spite of everything bad that happened to me, I’ve still been more fortunate than others. Not all people can say that, so the Christmas tree is perhaps not so much about fashion trends, but about a touch of humility and generosity. Sometimes we can offer more; other times, not so much. But what if even small tokens, like a few ornaments, can make a difference to someone, even if it’s only about their state of mind? I know they’ve made a difference to me, on more than one occasion… What if even simply being there for a few moments for someone we know has a hard time coping with the season can make a difference?… I tend to believe we’ve all been there at some point or another. Even if some of us cope with this well enough on their own, others may need a helpful hand reaching to them, without a condescending attitude.