In my family, we have a tradition of going to a Christmas tree lot the day after Thanksgiving and choosing a live tree to bring home. The trees we’ve selected have been a variety of shapes and sizes, but they have always been excellent quality. In fact, one year, our live Christmas tree began sprouting new growth all over it by the first of January. As a bonus, the trees we buy are a fundraiser for a local organization that does good work. We get a good quality tree and support a community organization all at once. You can’t beat that.
This year, however, was different. We went to the tree lot the day after Thanksgiving as we usually do. The person on duty asked us if we would be getting our tree into water within the hour, and we said yes. We had our tree stand ready to go at home. The man used a chainsaw to cut a small slice of wood off of the trunk so that the tree would be ready to draw up the water in our tree stand. He helped us tie the tree to the top of our car, and we headed for home with our 6-foot-tall Fraser fir.
After an uneventful trip home, we got our Christmas tree set up in the tree stand. We marveled at the fullness of the tree. It was a picture-perfect Christmas tree. No bare spots. No wonky areas. A very slightly crooked branch at the top, but other than that, the tree looked like something you’d see in a Hallmark Christmas movie.
The next day, we trimmed the tree with lights and ornaments. Jeff and I put the first ornament on the tree – an “our first Christmas” ornament from my late great aunt. The kids put up some of their special ornaments, and we had Christmas music playing in the background to complete the scene. Everything seemed perfect, minus the fact that we are still in a global pandemic and gearing up for another surge brought on by a new variant.
After about a week, I noticed bits of Fraser fir on the floor underneath the tree. I’m not talking a few pine needles here and there. Chunks of tree were falling off. We continued watering the tree as we do every year, but nothing seemed to help. Every day, the tree looked wearier and heavier than the day before.
I don’t blame the tree lot where we bought our tree. Not at all. I have a hunch that this year’s severe drought conditions coupled with widespread forest fires distressed the tree before we ever brought it into our home.
We managed to nurse our once-perfect tree along through Christmas, but then came the question: “Will our tree make it to Epiphany?” Epiphany is observed on January 6th every year. It follows the 12 days of Christmas and marks the day when the magi came to see Jesus. We bake a king cake and hide a baby Jesus figurine inside. After we celebrate, we take all of the decorations off of our tree and take the Christmas tree down. This celebration sometimes feels more meaningful to me than Christmas itself, because we are so busy in the lead up to Christmas that we don’t always have time to appreciate the celebrations.
Instead of the anticipation of Epiphany this year, we began every day after Christmas with either Jeff or me asking the other, “Do you think this tree will make it until Epiphany?” Every day I would pick up more chunks of tree off of the ground. I would vacuum up more pine needles. I would find ornaments on the floor after the branch dropped enough pieces and needles that it could no longer support the weight of the ornament.
But we can’t take it down, I fretted. It’s not yet time.
In the morning it will be Epiphany, and my battered and worn Christmas tree is still standing. It is nowhere near perfect. It’s drooping and sad. It’s lost pieces of branches, let go of some of the ornaments, and turned a pale green instead of the vibrant verdant color it had been when we bought it. But it’s still there.
I confess I feel a lot like my fragile Christmas tree these days. I’m battle-weary from this divisive world. I’m compassion-weary from watching friends and family suffer with illness, death, and financial strain. I’m heart-weary from watching my kids navigate a kind of world I never wanted for them. And I’m decision-weary from deciding what risk level I’m comfortable with in any and every situation I find myself in.
I imagine I’ve left bits of myself behind in 2020 and 2021. Even still, tomorrow morning I hope to take up a piece of chalk and write 20-CMB-22 over the door frame of my home–a nod to the three wisemen and to a Latin expression meaning “Christ Bless this Home.” I look forward to sharing a three kings’ cake with my family and hunting for the baby Jesus figurine inside. And, I look forward to taking the ornaments off of my fatigued tree and wrapping them to keep them safe for another year.
This may not be an Epiphany of inspiration or vigor or new life, but it will be an Epiphany of hope that somehow and some way Jesus can take this weary version of myself and begin making all things new.