By Merisa Sherman
As a child, Christmas in our house was absolutely perfect – and was always a party. Friends and family would gather, Christmas music would be blaring and trays of hors d’oeuvres were placed in different rooms as there were always too many people to squish into the one room where everyone wanted to be. It was the room filled with the most magic and, therefore, the one with all the little children running around and screaming with happiness, filled with holiday joy and more than a bit of caffeine and sugar. The room with the Christmas Tree.
My grandma would be sitting on the couch, as she carefully unwrapped each heirloom from its paper towel and attached an open paper clip to the top. She would then pause a moment, studying the ornament and remembering the story of how that particular one came to join our family. My favorite was the one ball that celebrated my parents’ first Christmas together. My sister and I would run and get them, interrupting them from whatever chat they were having and drag them by the hand through the house to the tree. Together, they would place both hands on that ornament and hang it together, like they had done that first time so many years ago.
There were ornaments for the kids, as well. The soft Raggedy Ann that seem to always have a piece of pine needle still in her red braids from the year before. There were the tiny birds with our names on them that one of our bus drivers has made (mine was pink!) or the random circus performers from the Avon collection. Or the special ones from our first Christmases, which would make my mom smile at my dad as they shared a moment in time.
But the tree itself!… No matter how little I was, it was my job to struggle with Dad and bring the tree inside. I have no idea what possessed a grown man to ask a 5-year-old girl for help that first time, but I took the honor very seriously. Mom would have all the couches moved and she and my little sister would boss us around, having Dad and me spin the tree to find the perfect view. Dad and I would roll our eyes and laugh at how perfect the tree had to be, but we would do it just for them.
Oh, how that Douglas fir would sparkle and shine with all the big, bold colored lights and the heaping of unattractive ornaments that somehow all came together to make a magical sight. How many hours my sister and I would sit in the living room, just basking in the beauty of it all, sitting below her branches and look high and higher until we would roll backwards with laughter at how high the tree stood. It was so big that my dad would have to lift my little sister above his head so she could place the golden angel atop the tree.
For a child, Christmas was perfect. And having our large family, all together, made it seem ever so much more magical. But, as time passes, family members pass on or move away, until it’s only you and your mom meeting in a parking lot to pick out a tree that I can lift alone. Each ornament, once a feeling of joy, is now a heartbreaking memory. Some ornaments you just can’t bear to put on the tree or you hide them in the back. At the same time, these ornaments bring comfort, a reminder of so much love that you want to hold them close to your heart and let the memories wash over you, to a time where Raggedy Ann had two eyes and the reindeer four legs.
As much as I struggle to look at my own tree, I do so love the Christmas tree where I have bartended for almost 15 years. Mary takes her tree seriously, spending an entire week stringing the lights just so and perfectly placing each ornament. I cannot help but be constantly distracted, gazing up with awe at the 15-foot tree nestled in the A-Frame at the Birch Ridge Inn. The tinsel, each individual strand placed with love, dances and glistens as it brings the magic of Christmas to life. And in that moment, gazing up to the star at the tippy top of the tree, I am a little kid again where Christmas is filled with magic and wonder … and hope.