If you were to visit my home this Christmas season, you would be met with a most unusual sight. Instead of the traditional pine Christmas tree, this year our tree is very unconventional, and you might be tempted to laugh at it as weird or silly. But there’s a story behind it, and it might make a little more sense out of our strange Christmas tree.
Here’s a picture of it:
Very odd, indeed. Here’s the story:
This autumn has been very difficult for us. My wife, Peggy, is getting close to finishing her Masters degree in Library Science, and she’s been slaving away at her final project. For the last month, it’s pretty much all she’s been able to do. This has been a particular challenge for her, because she suffers from fibromyalgia, an unpredictable and debilitating disorder that gives her acute pain at unexpected times and usually leaves her exhausted and unable to concentrate. The fact that she has been able to do masters-level work with this condition is amazing to me.
Peggy is very traditional, and loves to decorate the house for Christmas. She loves to make the place special for us, our children and our guests. So it was particularly painful to her that she was so busy with her masters paper — which she finally handed in, three days before Christmas — we weren’t able to get out and buy a Christmas tree this year. Our house won’t be well-decorated, and she’s deeply embarrassed about it. Tears have been seen in the vicinity of our home.
One of the watchwords of our marriage has been that we will always try to adapt and overcome any problem that arises. So we came up with an idea for a different kind of Christmas tree, the one you see in the picture above.
It’s an umbrella plant, and Peggy gave it to me when we were first dating, way back in 1979. It was much smaller then, but she’s kept it alive ever since (I have a black thumb). It’s kind of like our marriage — growing and thriving after all these years, despite all the twists and turns that fate has given us. So, in a way, this tree is a symbol for the generosity of God that was manifested at Christmas — and the great gift of each other, united and in love, still going strong.
At the base of the umbrella plant, we put another small plant, a Christmas cactus. It belonged to my mother, and thanks to Peggy’s care, it has bloomed for the first time in many years. So it, too, is another symbol of something central to Christmas — the fruitfulness of life, and the legacy of our wonderful parents.
The last piece of the story is also important. I read in the newspaper of the terrible plight of Christians in Iraq, displaced from their homes and unable to celebrate Christmas. They have no trees — traditional or unconventional — and no gifts. So we decided that the money that we would have spent on a Christmas tree would instead be donated to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which is doing such great work to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ. So our odd tree is a symbol of something else essential to Christmas — the vocation to be a gift of self to each other and to all those in need.
So, yes, it’s a very unconventional and strange Christmas tree. But I hope that the story behind it has helped make sense of it. If that doesn’t help, let’s look back at the the original Christmas story. The Son of God emptied himself, and became human in the poorest of circumstances, being born in a cave where the animals lived. His family suffered to bring him to birth, and they became refugees to protect him. They sacrificed for the love of each other, and he sacrificed all for the love of us.
I’d like to think that the Lord who came in such a way, and who lived such a life, would like our humble little tree. I think he’d smile at it, and appreciate what it means. And he’d feel perfectly at home in its shadow.