Lessons learned through a Christmas tree (or how I learned to embrace disorder and chaos)

My family had a traditional Christmas tree for most of my childhood.

It was wrapped in garland and colored beads, lit by multi-colored large bulbs, and decorated with Christmas balls and an assorted mix of old and new ornaments – handmade and store-bought –  in all colors, shapes and sizes.

For as long as I can remember I have compulsively applied order to everything, so I did not understand the hodgepodge of holiday decor and why everything couldn’t look like it went together.

I vowed when I grew up (“Wait until you have your own Christmas tree and you can do what you want with it,” I’m sure I was told) my tree would be like the ones I saw in the magazines – color-coordinated with the living room, adorned with small, delicate white lights and ribbon, and topped with a gold star.

And I had that tree. It looked exactly as I imagined. The ornaments I had from my childhood remained in the box they were packed in when I left home.

A few years later, now living in a new place and itching for a new start, I added personality to the place by putting up a tree that looked similar to the white aluminum trees popular in the 1960s. Adorned in red and white lights and red, shiny ornaments, it became a conversation piece among my friends. I loved how it looked, but something was missing.

Getting ready to move yet again, I rediscovered that box of ornaments I had tucked away. I took each one out to examine them – the angel on the sleigh with my name on it, and almost as old as I was; the beaded candy cane I made in Girl Scouts, the glass ornament my best friend covered in gold glitter and filled with tinsel.

Each reminded me of a special person, place or time. They were more than just objects you hang up in December; the ornaments were meaningful symbols that represented parts of my life. 

 I displayed them on a tabletop tree, but later I invested in a green, six-foot version. I needed to make room for the lobster ornament from Maine, and a variety of Boston Red Sox items. Also, the gold one inscribed with an Irish blessing purchased in County Cork. I hadn’t set out to put together an ornament collection, but now I had one.

I add a few ornaments each year from my travels, or they are given to me, or something catches my eye, like a silver typewriter this year. Opening my container of memories has become one of the activities I look forward to most during the season. 

My tree is now fully covered in mismatched décor and green and red lights and beads, and topped with a New England Patriots Santa hat. In fact, I am struck by how much my tree now looks like the one from my childhood. Funny how the thing that once gave me anxiety now gives me comfort.

One of the lessons I had to learn is that not everything has an order to it. It doesn’t always have to go together perfectly to make sense and that sometimes joy and meaning can be found within the chaos and the imperfections. And it’s a good thing I’ve embraced this new way of thinking because that aptly describes the holiday season, and it is here. 

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

Categories: Edit Note