The Christmas tree is down for another season

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 12, 2005

Putting away the Christmas tree for another year is never easy for me. I mean, I procrastinate setting up the tree till nearly Christmas Eve – long after everyone else in our neighborhood has had their house aglow for weeks. But when it comes to putting it all away again, I'd be just as happy to leave the tree up forever.

I think it's more about memories than laziness. True, each ornament I hang on the tree in the first place evokes its own memories of Christmases past. The red glass balls have been with us from house to house since our now-grown boys were in grade school.

A pair of balls with hand-painted cardinals was a gift from our niece's children as a token of their love. Friends gave us the wire-and-glass angel one year when they felt we needed an added awareness of God's love – it hangs from a branch near the middle of the tree.

Yes, each of those ornaments has its own story.

If that were all, then like a photo album, it would be sufficient to get them out every now and then for just a few minutes – long enough to remind ourselves of their legacy – and then stash them for another season.

But that's not all. This is a holistic experience. Each year the decorations come together in their own unique arrangement to honor the unique blend of people who gather in their midst – a community of friends and family hosted by a tree and its community of ornaments, sharing moments to remember.

Our seven-foot artificial tree, iridescent white and sparkling with its strings of miniature white lights, is like a living room version of a summer's campfire around which songs are sung, friendships made, loves embraced, lives enriched, journeys recounted. And how hard it is to see the last embers fade for another night.

But "to everything there is a season," and so begins my melancholy task.

I bring the empty boxes up from the storeroom. In one, I place the festive ribbons, bows, towels, table cloths, and Santa stockings. In another, I gently pack Christmas mugs, serving dishes, and a stained-glass Nativity scene. The red, white and gold ceramic Santa, a treasured hand-crafted gift, has its own bubble wrap and box, as does a ceramic church.

The red-fruited wreath and wall decorations come down; the welcome banner is carefully folded.

And now the tree. I insisted on keeping the lights lit while packing the other ornaments.

Five feathered cardinals are the first to come off, including the one perched atop the tree.

Next off are the five dozen delicate red glass ornaments – the long ones, the round ones, and the funny-shaped ones. (Somehow I managed to break two of them this time – rats!) Then come a few miscellaneous pieces, two gold ribbons, and a ruby-crystal cross. The cross had its own special place at the visual heart of the tree, a reminder of the reason for the season.

And finally, the lights, till all that is left is the tree itself, still welcoming, but ready to be boxed away for a 49-week rest, while the relationships it inspired grow in beauty like the roses of summer.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, what joy you've brought our household!

Before I close this week's column, I want to share a note I received from St. Albert coffee companion Jenny Bocock. Moved by the Boxing Day tsunami, she said:

"It is encouraging to hear how people have opened their hearts and purses to tsunami survivors in Southeast Asia.

"There are other tsunamis, however – tsunamis of evil – that have and are still sweeping across nations. When I wrote to a friend in Cambodia that I would contribute to orphans and students there because of the tsunami of evil that killed one million people, a man who is working hard to run orphanages was most touched.

"I think of Zimbabwe where Mugabe's regime has brought famine to what used to be the bread basket of Africa. The same has happened in Burma.

"We all have to be vigilant to resist these tsunamis of evil and keep good in control."

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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