By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com
O Christmas Tree
Published under 1,000 Monkeys.
I love everything about the Christmas season, from the decorations to the Christmas music piped in to all the stores to the lights brightening up all the houses. I love planning what to get each of the kids, baking Christmas cookies, and listening non-stop to Christmas music on the radio until my kids are begging for The Hold Steady or Radiohead or Neko Case. But my favorite part of the holidays is always putting up our Christmas tree. This year, for the first time in my children’s lives, this little family ritual took place with our family fractured; mostly, I think we handled it okay.
We usually pick out our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend. I was lobbying for investing in a quality artificial tree this year, but when I mentioned that idea to my children, they looked at me in horror, as if I’d suggested we roast Sophie, our beloved Jack Russell Terrier, for Christmas dinner. I argued the benefits of a fake tree: doesn’t die on you halfway through the season, no shedding needles, better (maybe) for the environment. It was all to no avail, though — their little hearts were set on a real tree that makes our house smell all Christmas-y. So their dad came over to be a part of this holiday ritual, and together we all set out to find the perfect tree: a 6-foot Grand Fir that smells like Christmas in heaven.
Our tree decorations are very simple. I don’t have a lot of “boughten” ornaments, there are no Star Wars or Hallmark or Snoopy themes involved. The theme of our tree is always “Our Family,” and the ornaments are almost all ones we’ve made ourselves: chunky, hand-painted salt-dough candy canes and bells shaped by clumsy preschool fingers in years past, hammered-tin ones made painstakingly in metalworking class last year and, most especially, the picture ornaments I’ve been making since the kids were small. Every year I order a set of prints from pictures taken throughout that year, and then I turn them into ornaments for our tree. When we pull out the box of picture ornaments every year, my kids get to walk back through their childhoods, and a spate of “do you remembers” flows as we admire the pictures and find the perfect spot on the tree for each one.
There are my mom’s two favorites: the picture of me as a newborn, dark curls still wet, and the one of me and my brother with Santa Claus when I was about eight and my brother was a baby. Then the procession of a houseful of children, growing ever older. There’s Meg, my oldest and a mother now herself, dressed as the Velveteen Rabbit for her first play when she was in eighth grade long ago in upstate New York. And here’s Neve, now almost a teenager, as a mischievous two-year-old with blond curls, grinning at the camera and Jaxon, now a growing-up-too-fast 10-year-old at age three, wearing his blue cape and Peter Pan hat, caught in mid-twirl as he played some imaginary game.
Then we have Veda, age 8, perpetually in motion since the day she was born, caught in various pictures flipping upside down, or bouncing, or leaping at the camera, and Luka, now a great big six year old boy, frozen in time tiny and new in his brother’s arms, looking up at him with the same sweet look of trust with which he still looks at his big brother now.
This year, the tree decorating was tinged with bittersweet. It was hard on the kids, and me, and perhaps even on their dad, to look at the pictures that chart the life of our family, our own little history, when what we were as a family no longer exists except in pictures. I was afraid my
kids might be sad seeing the pictures of their dad, since he no longer lives with us, and so I was thankful that he wanted to come over and share in the picking out and decorating of the tree with them this year.
It helped ease the transition for them, I think, to have all of us here together for this one little moment, and for them to be able to show their dad his pictures: “Look, Daddy! Here’s you holding a baby, which one of us is that?” and “Look Daddy, you had long hair in this one!” and “Daddy, remember when we took this picture of you wearing the Burger King crown?” It was good for them to have that time with their dad and the Christmas tree, and good for the grownups too, maybe, to remember that there were a lot of happy moments in those 14 years, that we didn’t always make each other miserable. And good for the kids, perhaps, to see their parents sharing this moment with them, and getting along with each other, and singing along with the radio, and laughing.
I love these pictures, every one of them, and treasure them more than any album. Every year the tree becomes our living family photo album through the holiday season, and every day our Christmas tree is up I admire the pictures, sifting through the memories of a life built around these kids, this family, for so many years, and I am thankful to overflowing that my life has been so blessed, so filled with people I love, whose smiles and hearts I depend on to keep my own heart light as surely as they depend on me to be their ballast in life’s passing storms.
Come Christmas morning, the tree will watch over the kids as they open their haul of presents, and stand guard tall and twinkly over Christmas dinner with the whole family, and everyone will pause to admire this or that picture on the tree, to say,
“Do you remember the kids ever being that small?” or “I remember that day!” And when we take the tree down on New Years Day, I’ll lovingly pack each ornament away in a box until next year. I’ll pack them all away carefully, these memories of mine, and then head into the new year with my children to forge new memories for next year’s ornaments.
And years from now, I hope we’ll look back on the ornaments from 2009 fondly, that we’ll all come to think of this as a time of transition to better times, rather than just a sad time. Whatever the future holds for us, I hope that it’s bright and shining and holds many happy memories-to-be for all our Christmas trees yet to be.
– Kim Voynar
November 30, 2009