It is officially Christmas Eve – for a few moments now, which means it is late and the house is quiet and I’m alone with my thoughts in this space. We’ve been lucky to have a bit of time to get away and unwind before the holiday that falls this year in the center of the week. I’ve taken this down time to finish up the cards that I started on the first of December. It’s funny that I mentioned my initial plan to create an advent calendar that counted down the days of the month before tossing that idea, because here I’ve done it – marking the twenty-four days of this month anyway with pieces of these cards.
I never intended for the Christmas tree to become this metaphor for my take on the season this year. I was struggling in November with the idea of the holidays at all – I kept saying that I wanted the remainder of this year to just pass by – the sooner, the better. Our holiday traditions kick off each year with the purchase of our tree, and I couldn’t imagine buying one this year. The effort seemed so monumental, the end result incongruous with the way I felt inside. We attended the Festival of Trees and Lights, a fundraiser for the children’s hospital that treated and cared for my niece, and within that forest of trees there was one for her. I love the fact that so very many people have found so very many ways to remember her this season. I love that the tree sparkles and shines and is covered in glitter from top to bottom. But it’s a tree. It’s just a tree. We don’t need a tree, we just want her.
E was working on a school project about the Nile River and Ancient Egyptians, and she told me that they decorated their homes with green palm branches on the solstice to symbolize the triumph of life over death. I knew that the solstice – the longest night of the year – was celebrated with evergreen branches by many groups of people over the ages. It was not my choice to purchase a tree this year, but I’m glad that we did. It has been a reminder, for me, of that promise of renewal, and new life. Even a quiet tree can be that.
The first week, our tree stood in the corner of the living room, boughs adjusting to the space, settling in and filling out. It’s shape was so perfect, and it scented the air of our rooms with a smell that I’ve come to associate with peace and comfort. I cut paper fir needles on the bed beside my daughters, while they read books and told me stories and slept.
The second week, I pulled out the white lights in the wee hours of the morning while I waited. The girls had made a welcome home sign for their dad, and he was traveling home after a long week, through the snow and the ice. I felt like the tree needed some lights to greet him when he walked through the door. I cut more fir needles in the chair next to my love when he returned while we watched shows that made us laugh and unwind and escape.
The third week we added an angel ornament, given to us in honor of her. A few days later, the thirteen commemorative silver bells – one for each year of our marriage and our home – mysteriously appeared within the branches. I glued hundreds of little paper branches together to form bigger branches, and then assembled them on the wall – looking at the real tree to see how the structure of the tree really worked.
These last few weeks of the year we are spending with family. There are other trees heavy with ornaments, piles of presents around the base. I brought paper ornaments and gold thread and a stack of cards and envelopes, and I took over a wall in my sister’s house to set up the paper tree. We constructed it, decorated it, and photographed it. Each individual card is numbered, with a single ornament hanging from a branch.
A portion of the enclosure in the card reads:
The symbol of the empty evergreen in our living room this year has been a reminder to me of the quiet work of grief. My card this year is a paper replica of that empty evergreen and a symbol of the community of branches – friends and family – supporting us along the way. Your card is a piece of this larger tree. The ornaments symbolize the sparkle that Erin added to our lives – her laughter, her dancing, her blue eyes, her freckles.