I don’t do Christmas trees

I don’t do Christmas trees.

It’s not a bah humbug thing, and it’s not some kind of protest about the commercialization of Christmas or a supposed paganization of it. It really has to do with that happy sadness of memory.

I was the only child of a single mother, and we were very poor. I remember one Christmas in Atlanta when I was ten. She was working two jobs as a waitress and we had a one-room apartment with a kitchenette. There was a bathroom downstairs that we shared with a basement apartment. I remember sleeping in my coat. Mama bought one of those little plastic gumdrop trees and set it on the dresser, filled it with colored gumdrops and wrapped my Christmas present – I think the landlady gave her some paper. It was two pairs of panties. They were so pretty; one was pink, and the other blue and they had a bit of lace trim. They were nylon. I’d never had anything but white cotton panties before. They were beautiful. I don’t remember being unhappy. It was Christmas and I was ten and I was loved.

Much later, not so poor and a lot older, we were still like children together at Christmas. She loved decorating and giving presents. I always had a lot of gifts; she’d even wrap a can of coffee she knew I liked and put it under the tree. This continued after her divorce and after my own. I always made it home for Christmas. It would have devastated her if I didn’t. It was Christmas and she was 70 and she was loved.

The last couple of years of her life, it was a struggle for her, especially that last Christmas, but she tried for my sake, and I tried for hers.

Mama made the most beautiful beaded ornaments and gave them to everyone she knew. I had a zillion of them, and in the first couple years after her death I decorated a Christmas tree with them. But it wouldn’t do. I gave them all away.

A few days ago, I met a friend in the parking lot at church. She lost her husband almost two years ago, and she was crying. “You said I’d get to a place where it wouldn’t hurt so much. Well, I’m still not there. It’s the memories. I hate them!”

“You will get there,” I said. “You’ll know you’re there when the memories don’t make you cry, but make you smile. And then you won’t hate the memories but cherish them.”

For the past several years I haven’t bothered with a tree; after all, I have no ornaments now. But this year, I think I’ll put up a small tabletop tree in the living room window with just some white lights. I’m pretty sure it will make me smile.

Dena Hunt
Dena Hunt is the author of the award-winning historical novel Treason (Sophia Institute Press), and The Lion’s Heart (Full Quiver Press), as well as several short stories and reviews, online and in print, at Dappled Things, StAR, and The Pilgrim Journal. She also writes for FaithCatholic, a liturgical publication company. She is currently working on her third novel. She is the book review editor of St. Austin Review.

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