36: Our Special Christmas Tree

36: Our Special Christmas Tree

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Our Special Christmas Tree

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all thirty feet tall.

~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

December of 1982 marked the end of a year scarred by divorce, selling a house in a buyer’s market, then finding and moving into an upper level, two-bedroom apartment on the Beach in Toronto. I was almost twenty-three and Ryan, my son, had just turned two. As a sole-support parent I barely eked out a living. Since we had moved on the first of December, I only had three weeks to get Christmas organized in our new home.

I bought the cheapest fake tree I could find and, as Ryan and I put it together, I accepted the fact that it wasn’t much of a tree. But, the silver tinsel, cardboard angel and one string of lights I’d bought seemed magical. Every evening, after dinner and Ryan’s bath, we would sit beside our tree and I would tell him how special it was. He was two and he believed me.

My parents wanted us to sleep at their house on Christmas Eve, but I was committed to starting our own traditions. I wanted Ryan to sleep in his own bed and wake up on Christmas morning in his own home with his presents under our tree. On Christmas morning, Ryan woke up so early and full of excitement that we were finished with opening presents and eating breakfast and on our way to my parents’ house before they even woke up.

After Christmas that year I went shopping and bought cards, a few more lights and some decorations at Boxing Day sales. Thus began my annual Christmas shopping habit. I didn’t make enough money to pay for Christmas all at once so I bought gifts on sale when I found them throughout the year, and picked up decorations at garage sales during the summer. Even though I had little money, I wanted Ryan to grow up with happy memories of Christmas. So, our traditions grew. We put up our tree in late November and took our time decorating it.

Each Christmas Ryan discovered the new decorations I’d picked up the year before. We also began an annual practice of making our own decorations. When people we knew travelled they would bring us back unique tree decorations. It didn’t take long before our scrawny tree looked full and stood proudly in our living room.

The side benefit of buying gifts all year was that my Christmas shopping was done by the end of October. This meant I could enjoy the holiday season without financial stress, and Ryan and I could have fun splurging on special treats and activities. We loved Christmas and our tree was at the heart of it. Over time, as my earnings increased, I bought a proper angel for the top of our tree, but the thought of buying a new tree never entered my mind. Even I believed that we had the best tree in the world.

When Ryan was eleven my father died, so we moved into my mother’s house and had to put most of our stuff, including our precious tree, into storage. We celebrated at my mum’s house for the next few years and Ryan really missed his tree. While her artificial tree was five times the size of ours, and actually looked real, it just wasn’t special to him.

In 1994, my soon-to-be husband Dave and I bought a house in Richmond Hill, a suburb north of Toronto, and my mum bought a condo there. We all moved on the same day and her tree ended up in our garage. It was too big for her condo, and in any case, she no longer wanted it.

Ryan had recently turned fifteen and was overjoyed, as Christmas approached, to know he would finally have his own tree and decorations back. But when our little fourteen-dollar tree emerged in parts from its box, Ryan didn’t quite know how to react. He’d grown a fair bit and was already close to six feet tall.

“It’s not like I remembered,” he said, his voice thick with disbelief. “It’s not even half of what I thought it would be.”

“It gets better and more special when we add all of our decorations,” I reassured him. But even as I spoke those words, I too was shocked at how scrawny our little tree really was.

Dave happened upon us at that moment in the living room and saw the sad look in both of our eyes, and the even sadder sight of our little tree, which was dwarfed even more by the size of our new living room.

Dejectedly, Ryan waved his hand over our tree and said, “This, Dave, is the most amazing tree I have been talking about for years. Can you believe it? How can I have thought this was the most special tree in the world? And, yet how can it not be?”

And in that moment, Dave seemed to understand that the memory of our tree and the reality of our tree were two different things. “What if,” he asked us, “we meld Nana’s tree with yours? This way, your special tree will become a part of our new tree.”

Dave was not enthusiastic about Christmas, so his suggestion surprised and thrilled us at the same time. He took our little tree to the garage and merged the poles from Nana’s tree with one from ours, and then drilled new holes to accommodate most of the different branches. It took a while for Ryan and me to put all the mismatched branches onto our new tree, and we had some left over, but when we were finished it was truly an awesome tree.

And so, with Dave’s help, we were content knowing that we hadn’t abandoned our little tree that had meant so much to us, but simply helped it grow and be part of something bigger and better — much like we were now doing as a family.

The funny thing was that some of our Christmas spirit seemed to rub off on Dave. He took the remaining tree pole and, with the leftover branches, made himself a “Christmas Bush.” He then set it up in his office and decorated it with old computer parts.

It felt so right that Christmas Eve to finally go to sleep in our own beds in our own home, once again with the best tree in the whole world still standing proudly in our living room — waiting for us on Christmas morning.

~Laura Snell

Wasaga Beach, Ontario

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