Charles Dickens wrote a piece called “A Christmas Tree” as a magazine article. In it, he describes a gathering of people admiring a Christmas tree. Then he goes on to describe all the memories that get triggered by the sight. He remembers childhood toys, food, and ghost stories among other things. Until this year, the piece never really connected with me. Although it is well written, it is a bit long and Dickens’ memories have nothing at all in common with my experiences. I put up two Christmas trees this weekend, and I kept thinking about the article. I reread it this evening and was struck by its sentiment.
A Christmas tree really is like a time machine. When my daughter and I were putting up our tree, I was distinctly remembering each and every ornament we hung. I remembered where we got it, or who gave it to us, or how old my daughter was when she made it. Some of the memories were just passing thoughts, but some got me to tell my daughter the stories. I’m not really the nostalgic type, but it was nice. It’s somehow nice to know that I’ll probably tell the same stories next year and the year after until she’s tired of hearing them.
Then we went over my parents’ house with my brothers, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, and aunt to decorate their tree. It was a similar experience, but this time, I listened to my mom tell my daughter about how old her dad was when he made that. And my daughter got to hear about my great-grandmother and see pictures of me and her uncles when we were kids. I don’t know what kind of impression it made on my daughter, but for me it really connected the past, present, and future in a very nice way.
I’m really glad we have the tradition of the Christmas tree. It’s the perfect mix of universal and specific. It’s symbolic in a way that doesn’t need explaining. And it’s fun. I’m already looking forward to next year.