When I was a kid, my parents bought a fake Christmas tree. It was much taller than I was, flocked with fake snow, and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever. Decorated with lights and ornaments, it was simply magical. I used to creep into the living room after everyone else had gone to bed, turn on the tree’s lights, and stare in happy wonder. When it came down after Christmas, I would be depressed. But I always knew that it was in storage in the attic, and would return the next year. That tree has lasted for my entire lifetime.
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, I grew into a Grinch. The utter commercialism of Christmas, and the obligation of buying gifts for people whether I wanted to or not, jaded me to such an extent that when I moved out on my own, I refused to have a Christmas tree. For a couple of years I strung lights on a potted palm, but soon let that drop as well.
Then I moved to Portugal, into a house with (at the time) a six-year-old child. Suddenly a tree was required. Fortunately, my wife already had one. Like the one I grew up with, it’s fake. But that’s where the similarities end. It’s smaller, and far more cheaply made — my parents’ tree actually looks real, while this one hardly even tries. Every time we put it together, a zillion needles fall off. (We joke that in another five years there won’t be any tree left to put up.) The branches are squished and some have to be tugged into place by strategically strung lights. It’s kind of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, if you’re familiar with that reference.
When I arrived in Portugal, I brought with me a small box of ornaments that I’d had since childhood. We put them on this tree every year, and my stepson adores this part. He’d never seen ornaments quite like those before, and to him they are exotic and special.
This year my wife and I assembled the poor, squished, shedding tree, strung the lights, and then called our kid in to help hang the ornaments. He did so with palpable delight, and was then given the traditional task of putting the star on top. Last year I had to lift him so that he could reach it. This year he dragged over a footstool and stood on top of it.
When it was all done, he said, “This is the best tree in the world!”
And, just like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes bigger. I think that if I turn off the room lights, and sit in the dark to stare at the tree, I just might remember that old magic. It didn’t go away. It just passed into the next generation.