Each December the weather in Chicago transforms into a super-villain, wielding the cold like a weapon, freezing everything in its path. A few years ago, with winter’s formidable appearance on the forecast, I sent my husband and three sons to choose a Christmas tree before the roads were rendered useless. I stayed behind and began unpacking ornaments, heating up cocoa, and digging out holiday music, all to set the tree-trimming mood.
A few hours later they returned, mischievous smiles on their faces. “Guess what we got?”
My husband lugged six enormous cardboard boxes into our living room. The boys declared, “Surprise, Mom! It’s the biggest tree in the world!”
I pride myself as an easy-going woman. I live with four of the male species, so I’m not generally rattled when they come home with things like dead cockroaches or the latest fart joke. But, I also consider myself a cultivator of beauty and simplicity. When I imagined our Christmas tree, it was charming. It was tasteful. It was alive.
I never envisioned a monstrosity of a plastic tree masquerading as a Douglas fir and towering three times the height of my husband. Standing eighteen-feet tall, six-feet wide, and pre-lit with brash blinking lights, the thing is gaudy enough to have its own act in Vegas.
Still, I could’ve responded with a teeny bit more patience.
“What in the world were you thinking? I don’t care if you get a refund or ya’ burn it. Get it out.”
And just in case my point wasn’t clear, “By the way, you’ve ruined Christmas.”
The boys started crying. My husband slammed a door.
The winter villain had struck down in our home, crushing everyone’s dreams, all because I wasn’t getting the picturesque Christmas I demanded.
That night, after everyone was in bed (cocoa untouched, ornaments unhung), I snuck downstairs to examine the tree, trying to muster some ounce of grace for it. Instead, I sat on the couch and bawled. God, I need you to help me let go.
The boys spent the next day unwrapping their great-grandparents’ handmade ornaments— the wooden rocking horse, the toadstool, the steeple, the manger— and hung them on the new tree with wire that my late Papa himself, fifty winters earlier, had twisted with love.
He, a soldier, fell for my grandma when she asked what he did in the army.
“Tanks,” he answered.
“You’re welcome,” her witty response.
They were married the following year, for fifty-six more, until the day he died.
I imagined the two of them carving, sanding, and painting these ornaments. Fantasizing about future grand and great-grandfingers that would one day unwrap their advent treasures.
I realized that my family and our Christmas memories are the fullness of that dream.
“Hey guys,” I confessed sheepishly, “Mama owes you and daddy an apology. I’m so sorry about how I acted last night. Can we please start over? Thank you for bringing home this…this…absolutely incredible tree.”
That evening, in a pile of giggles and whispers about gifts to come, the boys fell asleep under their beloved giant. Their chubby cheeks flashed red, green, and blue under the twinkling lights.
This year, as winter begins her ascent and as we set up the tree that won’t quit, there is a part of me that still craves a postcard Christmas; white lights on a quaint blue spruce. But, then I stop to praise God for our oversized tree.
It is, after all, my very tangible reminder that He creates warmth and light.
He thaws even the coldest of seasons.