Thursday, December 17, 2009

O Christmas Tree

It had to happen sometime. I was bound to put the Christmas tree up again someday and today was the day. My husband found the artificial tree in the garage and brought it in, full of doubt about the whole project.

Now, remember, I like Christmas. I like the music especially. I'm not much for Grandma getting run over by a reindeer but I enjoy the fun carols, the sacred carols, folk carols, instrumental and vocal. One of my favorites is in Latin, O Magnum Mysterium. I live under the delusion that I'm musical, that it's part of our family. A brother plays guitar and sings, a sister the cello, another sister the oboe, guitar and who knows how many other instruments, and Dad played the oboe. It's a family thing. My sisters and our sister-in-law have actually cut (personally produced) albums of their music which I just love. I sing.  I sing all the time, whether out loud or in my head.  I used to worry about it.  Now I figure it's my own personal elevator music.

I sang in school choir, in church choir and in Sweet Adelines. I was part of a quartet called Jigsaw Jazz (as if we were famous) and sang at a county fair. Little old guys wanted my autograph! That's when I was pretty sure I wasn't cut out to be famous. Still, one of the things I love best about the season is singing the songs. Finally, the soundtrack that is my constant companion in my head is appropriate to sing out loud this time of year and people don't mind so much if you sing along.

Well, they don't mind so much, I found, if they approve of your singing. My husband was blessed with many things, but a singing voice wasn't one of them. People have a hard time believing that, thinking he must be an Irish tenor. After all, he has sparkly blue eyes, and smile as big as County Cork and stories that last forever. How can a guy like that not sing? Well, he does sing. But people ask him to stop. He's so far from perfect pitch that people wish he were just in the ballpark.

My favorite Christmas story of his is sad but true. One midnight mass he enthusiastically joined the congregation in singing Christmas carols. After a couple of looks and suggestions, one brave (or brash) soul asked him to go outside the church if he was going to continue to sing because he was throwing the choir off! Some Christmas spirit!  Bah and humbug.  At least the story gets funnier each time he tells it.

So, without children and and with only a song in our hearts or running through our heads, we usually don't put a tree up. We've done a few tree substitutes. Usually I will hang the Christmas cards we get in a tree shape on the Venetian blinds, easy up, easy down. One year I put presents under the television.  Hey, it has lights.  What do you want?  And generally if we're really in the spirit, we will move a wreath we keep up year 'round from the hutch to an oscillating fan on a tall stand that we've consistently failed to put away after summer is over. After we decorate the Christmas fan, we put the presents under it and wait for the cats to steal all the bows from the presents and hide them under the couch.  You have your traditions, I'm sure.

This year, though, good heavens we will have guests! With children! Frank is from France, his wife Seiko is from Japan and their two sons are definitely from Orange County. The older boy is going to support his parents in their old age with a career in professional tennis. Well, maybe. And the younger one has learned to surf. Very California! Frank's parents are gone and since we don't have children and he doesn't have parents, he's adopted us. He felt it was time the children spent more time with their "grandparents." This is cause for celebration for us, followed quickly by panic. At least, that was my experience. Naturally part of that panic is the, "OMIGOSH we've got to find the Christmas tree!"  I was pretty sure we still had one.  It's not like we've thrown anything else away.

The hubs came through with the tree, pulled from who knows where in the garage, along with two boxes of perfectly hideous Christmas ornaments. Now, I am proud that we are an all-rescue family. The cats love the dog. The dog loves at least one of the cats (the neighborhood inter-species scandal but at least it's just the animal version of courtly love, a lot of singing and poetry and goo-goo eyes between our otherwise ferocious little calico cat and our otherwise mild-mannered cocker spaniel.  Think Jeeves, not Bertie.). But I have to say that rescue Christmas ornaments are pretty pitiful. After we figured out how to put the tree up, a sort of tab A-slot B trial and error effort, we dug out strings of lights. One string is multi-color and steady. The rest are blinky and blue. Some of the ornaments are made out of painted pastry, some out of shredding polyester thread over styrofoam balls, some crocheted and some the usual store-bought glass balls. I remember getting them back in 1988 when I lived alone and was determined to have a Christmas tree, no matter what. Well-meaning friends have gifted me with the occasional spectacular single ornament like Friends Forever 2000 and a few Frog Princes.  This year I got some rather nice seashell ornaments from an exchange package.  Plus, there is a sparkly blue garland and a china angel-doll tree topper with lights that still work after 20 years. Score. Add this hideous jumble to our fake Charlie Brown Christmas tree and it's a rescue Christmas special! But we plugged in the tree lights and turned off the living room lights and, you know what? It's Christmas!

Sometimes the message of love and light goes out and misses the mark. When people are starving or hurt or crazed with grief or anger, singing a jolly carol or repeating a worn phrase can be like an insult. But sometimes, with bits of felt and glue and glitter and paint, with cards and music, with a plastic tree and blinky lights, sometimes the message gets through. It's not whether your tree wins a beauty contest. It's not whether your singing gets you on American Idol. It's not whether the family that comes to you for a holiday of love has DNA, language or sports in common. It's that we can gather around our rescue tree and sing, with all our voices, big and small, flat, sharp or outside the building and transform ourselves and our lives into the spirit of love. Suddenly, that tree is the most beautiful tree in the world. That Christmas carol brings a tear to your eye. And our hearts are full of the wonder of the season.

No matter what you celebrate at this time of year, may your hearts be full of love. May they be decorated with the gifts of the season. May your family, whether they are the family you choose or the family you came with, be a little closer. May your white Christmas not be dandruff. May all your presents fit and flatter you except the pink sweater that your aunt loves and you hate. And, may the cats not discover the joys of tree-tipping until after the guests leave next week. Please.

Best wishes!

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