A friend proudly described her 2019 Christmas motif: “My decorating theme this year is all about nature. Tree ornaments of birds, squirrels, bunnies, pine cones…”
I tried that one year, announcing to the family that blue would be theme: blue lights and ornaments on the tree, blue star on top, blue candles on the Advent wreath. Cacophony ensued, blue disappeared, and out came the multi-colored lights, handmade star, dented balls, and lopsided angels.
Many of those decorations have disappeared through the intervening years due to moves within the continent and across an ocean, but new tokens are in place, gathered from many corners of the globe. The tree isn’t perfect—bought on sale at Lowe’s—it leans slightly to the right. Candles (unlit!) also tend to tilt. And if you look closely, you’ll see a crack in one of the balls. Definitely an un-themed tree.
Or is the theme simply “memories”? I bought the little Austrian girl ornament during a wintry trip to Innsbrück. A red-headed high school boy in my Bonn Sunday School class gave me the star. You could find a replica house from Lithuania and a streetcar from New Orleans. A fluffy lamb is from Linda who’s now in heaven. From Renée is a miniature nest with three tiny robin’s eggs. And the framed tree is from our grandson who barely squeezed in the OmaOpa inscription. So many stories. So many memories.
A Christmas tree can be themed or—as in our case—a blend of memories. But if you look closely at our tree, you might see a central focus in the midst of the higgledy-piggledly ornaments. Can you see it between the red candle and blue angel? The Austrian girl is below and to the right. It’s the small gold nativity scene. And several other nativity representations are hidden among the branches. In fact, if you walk around our house, you’ll see this theme in every corner. The tall white porcelain Mary, Joseph, manger, and shepherds from Bonn are on the hutch top shelf. On a shelf below are the miniature figures—complete with camels, sheep and lambs, wise men—made by our friend June. In a favorite and unique nativity scene from Zambia, all figures (including the angel!) have black “skin.” Roughly carved wooden figures from Israel inhabit the stable made by our son so many years ago. (We’re puzzled how a wooden hippo found its way into the stable, but we carefully place him next to sheep each year. One year we even found him on the stable roof Christmas morning.) Across the mantle and in almost every corner, smaller nativity scenes remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Our un-themed tree could be a picture of Christmas itself. Some—maybe only a few??—celebrate with family united in political and religious views. Others have bruised tongues from preventative biting during heated discussions.
Some dress in holiday finery while seated at laden tables. Torn jeans and stained tee shirts the mode du jour with a beans-and-hot-dogs menu for others.
Cooing babies and excited toddlers elicit smiles in certain homes, while unmoving parents or grandparents occupy a corner chair in the haze of Alzheimer’s disease.
An impending birth announcement is greeted with whoops of joy, while tears slide down cheeks as recent losses cripple the soul.
What is your Christmas 2019 theme? Not the theme on the tree or in the house. The theme in your heart. Can you find joy in the midst of tears? Refreshing solitude though alone? Hope replacing regret? Joy through tears?
Look away from the tree, from the circumstances, from a groaning world and gaze at the central theme: that stable with Mary, Joseph, and God.