The Special Tree

The last day of school before adjourning for the Christmas holidays was always a time of both joy and sadness for our family of five. As a poor family, we didn’t have money for a Christmas tree or gifts. Other families concerned themselves with holiday baking, decorating and gift buying. Many of our school mates and neighbors would be traveling near and far to visit family, while our journey was in our home.

Even though our holiday was simple and barren, we always found pleasure in the spirit of the season. For a couple years, our dad, a part-time janitor for the local school system searched the dumpsters for a discarded tree; left behind by a teacher and students departing for the holidays. On one particular Christmas when Dad arrived home with our “re-cycled” tree, it was perfect. Dad had searched for the tallest tree, but this one was special. It was laden with glistening tinsel.

For several years, our traditional Christmas holidays included a trip to local roadside trees for a “mistletoe hunt.” Dad loaded us three children into the car, ladder in tow and off we went. When locating the tree with the most mistletoe, Dad retrieved the ladder from the car. Ascending the ladder rung by rung, each of us giggled with glee. This fresh mistletoe would be the finishing touch to our holiday décor. There were no bright lights in our windows, glowing candles atop our tables or joyous carols playing in our house, but we had a tree and mistletoe, brimming with love.

It was my task as the eldest child to bake our Christmas cookies. Because our pantry consisted primarily of government commodities; creativity was paramount. I didn’t have fancy-colored nonpareils to make the cookies glisten or chocolate morsels and nuts to create chewy and delectable candies.  However, because our family lived humbly, we cherished the smallest blessings of life; including recycled trees, freshly harvested mistletoe and plain homemade sugar cookies.

With the house decorated and the cookies baked, we lacked only one Christmas tradition; the annual play. As the eldest, I commandeered my younger siblings to present this as our gift to our parents for as long as they would tolerate the annual reenactment of the greatest gift. We would drape ourselves in tattered bathrobes and towels, using our frayed wicker laundry basket as the manger. My favorite doll was baby Jesus, while the three of us children portrayed Joseph, Mary and one “lone” shepherd. Because we had no friends or family to share in the joys of Christmas, this time of recalling the birth of our Lord brought special meaning to our family of five.

The memory and reminiscence of previous holidays is a treasure I cherish. Whether alone, as many of my Christmases are or with friends, there is warmth and gratitude for the most beautiful gift ever given.

NIV John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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