We brought our tree home to decorate last weekend. The four of us unwrap ornaments, de-tangle lights, as the Christmas music plays through the speakers. All of us working to keep the toddler from getting hold of the glass ones (though as it turns out my husband is the one to break one, not the two-year-old). I’ve brought out from storage the bulbs of white and silver and gold, and have left the others in their boxes in the basement. When we’re reaching the last of the bulbs my husband pauses, looks around the living room, and says “This can’t be all of them, where are all the other ornaments?” “Well…” I start, trying to choose my words carefully. You see, I have this idea of the type of tree I want, one with a lovely palette of metallics. Classy, tasteful. The red and green bulbs could just stay tucked away in their boxes this year, alongside the mismatched ones that were given as gifts or made in Sunday school class. “I was thinking…” I say slowly, I know I’m treading on shaky ground here, “That maybe this year we could just use these colours.” We all stand back and gaze up at the tree. It looks empty. Unfinished.
“We’re not trying to have a designer tree,” my husband interjects. Always ready with the one-liners that pull me out of my tunnel vision; like a wrecking ball his words swing in and demolishes the walls of my thinking. He’s right. Well, I actually was hoping for a designer tree. That is exactly what I was going for. But his next comment convinces me otherwise. “I think we should just do what we do,” he says, now lying on the couch with his feet up, the boys cuddled under each arm just how I find them most evenings.
I leave the tree for now, we’re all tired and ready for bed. But the next day I go back to the basement where the rest of the ornaments are stored. I bring up a few of the green ones and hang them around the tree — it begins to look a little more complete. I unwrap the flower ornaments from my mother-in-law, the large glass bulb from a former student, the homemade reindeer and stockings made for the kids by their aunt. The personality that was lacking is now coming to life. The kids ooh and ahh at each ornament that we pull out of the box. Now, this is becoming our tree.
This is what we do.
And I think this is about more than just Christmas trees, isn’t it? It’s about knowing what we are after, whether in planning our Christmas season or our lives. What is it that we are trying to do? And what is it that we should stop trying to do? What is us, and what is not? If we can put words to those ideas, then I think our lives could become a little more fulfilling. Or at least mine would. I know not everyone feels this pressure to be something they’re not, some people just know who they are and stand firmly on that ground. But those of you who, like me, can easily be swayed by the beauty of other people’s lives, or thoughts, or Christmas trees, could we, maybe, just let go of that? Perhaps our days would become less of the stress and hustle of trying to do someone else’s life instead of our own, and more of the ease and joy that come when we finally settle in and just do what we do. As researcher and author Brent Brown has said, “Incompatible living is not sustainable.”
I’m thinking about the things that are worth holding onto, like the ornaments that gave my family’s tree the character of us. The things that make us feel whole and happy, that aren’t worth sacrificing because when they are we feel empty and our lives lacking. What are the things that make me, me, and you, you? The hand-knit stockings, the annual food drive, the neighbourhood-wide Christmas party. Or the night in playing cards in your pyjamas. The store bought cookies. Or the homemade ones.
What is worth holding tightly to, and what can we let go of?
Am I chasing after someone else’s dream or am I chasing after my own? Can I even tell the difference anymore?
It’s not just what kind of tree I want to have, it’s figuring out what kind of person I want to be. What kind of life do I want to have? Is it one filled with activities and friends and parties? Or is it a quieter one with minimal engagements and just a few, close friends? Both can be fulfilling, sensational lives. But only when aligned with who we are, at our core.
I’m trying to listen to myself, to figure out the things I’m hungry for and the things that just don’t suit my palette. Sometimes it’s about adding back the things I once took away for fear of judgment, for fear of doing something wrong. For not appreciating the uniqueness in how I was made.
Some of us will have a designer tree standing in our living room and some of us will have a very not-designer Christmas tree. Some will have a Diwali toran hanging. Others a Menorah resting on the table. Because, as I learned with my own Christmas tree, it’s not just about my interests is it? It’s about my kids, my husband, the Bhutanese family across town, the mother in Haiti. Is there enough room in my heart for all of us? Well, I’m working on that.
If I came into your home I hope that I would ask you about the decorations I saw, what memories the holiday brings with it, the significance of this time of year for you. And then I’d tell you about mine. Because this is you being you, without shame and without arrogance, which gives me the freedom to be me. This is what we can offer one another – the beauty of a vibrant world with people brave enough to claim their ground, vulnerable enough to invite others in, and gracious enough to know not one of us, nor our trees, are exactly alike.