Less than two weeks until Christmas, and I haven’t sent out our annual photo cards. I haven’t finished buying gifts for my various relatives, friends, family, neighbors and pets. I haven’t baked Francis’ favorite Cranberry Pinwheels or Hayden’s favorite Onion Swiss Bread or Grammy’s favorite Cheese Ball. I haven’t moved the Elf on the Shelf from his original spot in a box in our basement.
And I’m embarrassed to say, we haven’t even bought a tree yet.
I’m way behind this year, but I won’t panic because I already did the one thing that keeps me grounded through the holidays.
No, I didn’t put a shot of Jamesons in my morning coffee. I didn’t book a flight to Cancun to hide out until the kids go back to school. And I didn’t convert to Buddhism to avoid the holiday altogether.
All I did was plug in an old ceramic Christmas tree.
If you were born before 1985, you know what I’m talking about. Our mothers, aunts and grandmothers made them at local ceramics shops back in the day. When I was a kid, it seemed there was a ceramic Christmas tree glowing in the window of every split-level, doublewide, and brick ranch in town.
Problem was, we didn’t have one in our brick ranch. Why? My mother thought they were tacky. Sigh …
Sometimes, we visited our friend’s house who had a huge ceramic tree in the front window. I couldn’t stop staring at it. The vivid colors of the plastic pegs, glowing from the light bulb within, seemed impossibly pure. Cobalt blue, emerald green, golden yellow, ruby red and hot magenta. It was an irresistible feast for my ceramic-tree-deprived eyes.
To me, that lighted tree somehow symbolized everything good about the holiday season.
Twenty years later, I was pushing our stroller through a seedy indoor flea market in an old strip mall in Virginia Beach, when I saw it.
Francis was gone on some kind of military duty and I had three kids under the age of five. Needless to say, I was stressed. I have no idea what possessed me to wander into the flea market, but three isles in, past the creepy dolls, the handbag knock-offs, and the suspicious electronics, there it was — a beautiful 1971 ceramic Christmas tree gleaming like a beacon in that broken down strip mall.
“Eleven dalla,” the tiny Pilipino woman barked at me from behind the table heaped with old junk. I counted out the paltry sum and took my prize home. There on my kitchen counter, radiating precious jewel tones beside my toaster, was my sanity.
The mesmerizing sight of the vintage tree transported me away from the mayhem. Away from the obligation to spend hundreds on meaningless gift cards for people we hardly know. Away from the photo cards mailed out to so many recipients, there’s no time to even sign our names. Away from the minute-by-minute distraction of cell phones. Away from the 24-hour line-up of holiday television programming clogging up our DVRs.
Instantly, the lighted tree catapulted me back to my childhood. To a time before the Internet, digital photos, virtual reality, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Throwback Thursday.
When we scratched the frost off of our windows with grubby fingernails, and couldn’t wait to get outside. When we ate all our peas at dinner because “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” was airing at seven o’clock. When Christmas cards were special because we only got ten. When candy canes were a pretty big deal. When we called to thank our aunt for the crocheted hat from the rotary phone on the kitchen wall. When we laid under the tree in footed pajamas, gazing into the saturated colors of the dangerously hot incandescent bulbs, our bellies full of chocolate chip cookies and our heads full of gratitude.
When the holidays, and life in general, were simple and sweet.
Nowadays, the first thing I do to prepare for the holiday is plug in my ceramic Christmas tree to remind me of the simple joys of the season. But there’s no need to run out to a seedy indoor flea market in search of a handmade relic like mine. Just find the simple things that bring goodness and light to your holiday.