One of my favorite Christmas memories is picking out each year’s Christmas tree with my father. We would go to a local tree lot, where he would find several trees that he thought would do nicely. I, on the other hand, was in search of the perfect tree, and I didn’t believe it was a decision that could be rushed. I inspected dozens of trees, often asking the assistants to hold them so I could step back and see them from every angle. Sometimes we visited more than one lot, because none of the trees in the first lot were quite good enough. And I have a vivid memory of him standing in the freezing drizzle, his crew cut spiking from ice, holding a tree and saying, “I really think this one is good enough, don’t you?” There was something in his tone that made me realize disagreement wasn’t an option.
These days, my husband I put up two Christmas trees. The artificial one goes up in our living room the day after Thanksgiving, and the real one goes in our basement family in early December. When we were first married, my poor husband was dragged along from tree lot to tree lot as I searched for a tree that was exactly right. One year we actually returned a live tree that we had purchased because we didn’t like the way it looked in our living room when we got it home. From the look on the face of the woman who ran the tree lot, I’m pretty sure we’re the first customers who ever did that.
I think the reason I tried so hard to find the perfect tree was simply that I really love the Christmas season. I love the decorating, the shopping, the baking and the gatherings. Because I loved the holiday so much, I wanted everything about it to be perfect, starting with the tree. But the truth is, no matter how hard I tried, I never…not even once….celebrated a perfect Christmas. I’ve had some very nice Christmases, but never a perfect one.
And all these years later, I’ve finally realized that’s okay. I’ve figured out I can still enjoy the holiday season, even with a tree that’s too short or too skimpy, with cookies that don’t look a thing like the picture in the recipe book, and even when a holiday gathering I’d looked forward to is cancelled. Christmas can be quite nice even if my allergies are acting up and the dog decides to eat the gingerbread house I spent two hours decorating.
My very favorite church service of the entire year is the Christmas Eve candlelight service, but in 2020, no church was open. But that year my sister sent me a link to an online “service” her church had created and I loved it. Turns out, watching “Silent Night” sung by candlelight is almost as good as being there. And the year my entire family came down with a cold on Christmas Day wasn’t the disappointment I thought it would be. We slept in, then gathered around the tree to open presents. It was a subdued celebration, and we went through an entire box of tissues that morning, but it was still special.
So yes, I’m looking forward to Christmas this year, but no, I’m not expecting it to be perfect. I know gift receipts will be lost, someone in the family will get sick, schedules will have to be reshuffled, and tempers will frayed. But through all the messiness of real life, the joy of Christmas will still be there…..and that’s good enough for me.