It had been a difficult year. My marriage ended, I moved twice, and I began a new relationship.
It was two weeks before Christmas and my boyfriend Jim asked if I wanted to put up a Christmas tree. I got angry every time he tried to talk to me about the holidays.
“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t have room in my tiny apartment for a Christmas tree,” which came out more like a bark that sounded like “back off.” It was really more of an excuse. The Christmas decorations and ornaments that I had collected and added to every year of my life had “disappeared” during my divorce. I was ready to skip Christmas altogether and move on to a new year.
“We could always get a smaller, table-top tree,” Jim suggested.
“We are not putting up a fake Christmas tree!” I shouted, then retreated to the bedroom, slamming the door as I went.
Now here it was Christmas Eve. We had only been dating a few weeks, although we’d known each other for over a year. This was our first Christmas together.
We met at the gym where I worked. He was a personal trainer and taught a strength training class. There were always two to six other people, mostly women, in attendance. It felt good to be part of a group. We had laughed, worked hard, and grew strong together.
Working out was a wonderful, healthy distraction from the pain and challenges of life. I did my best to stay positive that year, however, I was not feeling the holiday spirit. I didn’t even want to celebrate Christmas.
Growing up, for as long as I could remember, I had a live Christmas tree in my home. Some years, my family would buy a tree from a local store but often, we’d go directly to a tree farm to cut one down. We’d bundle up in our hats, scarves, mittens, and winter boots, knowing that we might have to walk some distance until we found the perfect tree. We’d drag it back to the car to bring home, where it would sit in the basement for a night or two in a pail of water, dripping rain or snow from its branches.
Once it was dry, Dad would bring it upstairs to put in the tree stand. We would spin it to the right, looking for the perfect side, then spin it back to the left, perhaps finding a hole in the branches that would fit best facing the wall. Eventually, it was perfect, and Dad would secure it in the stand.
Then came the lights. Dad did those with a little help from Mom. They were big multi-colored bulbs that twinkled on and off all day and into the night. My mom, sister, and I added the ornaments, many of them handmade. We finished it off with tinsel, placed strand by strand until the tree glimmered.
We’d stand back silently, hearts filled with gratitude at the beauty of a simple Christmas tree. My sister or I would take turns watering it. Every day, it had to be checked.
Now in my late thirties, it was my first Christmas with Jim. He tried to cheer me up, make me laugh, and get me into the Christmas spirit but I continued my role as Grinch.
Jim was determined to make our first Christmas special and create our own holiday traditions. Behind the scenes, he was working hard. On the day before Christmas, I went to work. He went shopping. Store after store, he searched for the perfect tree. Every store was sold out of the small table-top sized trees. After shopping all afternoon, he was tired and losing hope. He went to one final store and asked the cashier if they had any trees left.
“Yes, I think we do,” she said. “They are in the back of the store.”
His spirits lifted as he ran to the back, only to discover that he had two choices: a three-foot tree, red or blue.
He looked back and forth from the red tree to the blue tree thinking, “Who buys a red or blue Christmas tree?”
Determined not to leave the store without a tree, he picked up the blue one and carried it to the register.
After standing in line for over five minutes, he started to second guess his choice. “I can’t get her a blue tree,” he thought. So he returned to the back of the store, found a red tree, and made his way back to the register.
As he stood at the back of the line, he suddenly felt self-conscious. It felt like all eyes were on him, judging him and his red tree.
“Red? Really? A red Christmas tree?” he thought. “No way.” He removed himself from the line a second time, and went back to find the last little blue Christmas tree the store had.
As he walked through the store, an ornament display caught his eye. It was filled with beautiful sparkly ornaments. He scanned the shelves, until he found a box of silver and blue ornaments. Perfect for our little blue tree.
Proud of his purchases, he showed up on my doorstep, ready to enjoy a quiet Christmas Eve.
I took one look at the blue tree in a box and stomped off to my bedroom muttering under my breath, “Who the hell would buy a blue tree? I don’t want that.”
I wrapped a few gifts, frustrated with how the holiday was unfolding.
Jim was not to be discouraged. He unpacked the little blue tree, carefully set it up, and decorated it with a single strand of small white lights and the silver and blue ornaments.
He was putting a silver star on top when I came back into the room. He had dimmed the lights and turned on soft Christmas music. Before me stood the most precious sight: a beautiful, stunning, elegant little blue Christmas tree that twinkled with magic and possibility and hope for our future.
Best of all was the man standing next to it that had worked so hard to make our first Christmas special for me.
Instantly, I began to sob. Giant alligator tears streamed down my face. The beauty of the moment and the effort Jim made to do something nice for me overtook my emotions. I felt relieved and happy. Ashamed for giving him such a hard time, but overjoyed at the same time. I felt hope.
I slowly walked toward Jim. He took my hands in his, smiled warmly at me, and said, “Merry Christmas.”
This year, Jim and I are celebrating our thirteen Christmas together. We have moved, changed careers, gotten married, and driven across the country to begin a new life—during a pandemic. But each Christmas we continue and find a place for our beautiful little blue Christmas tree with the blue and silver ornaments.
From my blog:
- Joy to the World or Blue Christmas?
While you may not be “up” or “on” every minute of every day, you can learn two simple concepts that can help you shake your blues, especially during the holidays.
- Gifts of the Season
“What do you want for Christmas?” Often the answer involves material things such as a bike, a game, or the last “cool” thing that was advertised on television or the internet. Sometimes, the answer goes a bit deeper with a wish for something that can’t be found in stores or bought with money. It’s a Christmas wish for something that would make our fears, anxiety, or pain go away.
Additional Resources – Holiday Shopping
Buy Now: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air
Includes my story: Love at Work
Buy Now: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive, Live Happy
Includes my story: Choosing Joy