Maybe it’s the lack of smell. Or the sparkly paint on the stiff dead branches, more glare than glisten.
My fourth grade teacher had a miniature in a pot on her desk, all trimmed out in tinsel and red glass ornaments. I elbowed it to the floor on my way to the pencil sharpener and sometimes, forty years later, I still wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed of her face in that critical moment.
Fourth grade was brutal.
In 1986 I worked fourteen hour days as slave labor in a greenhouse that specialized in Christmas décor. We sprayed white snow and shiny lacquer on pine branches until we were dizzy with the fumes. I had hives all over my body and fluid in my lungs, and I swore I would never, ever go white at Christmas.
A dear friend had a “life” sized white Christmas tree. Her fiancé had purchased it for her on a post- holiday sale, and he died, very suddenly of a heart attack, before Christmas came around again. I helped her decorate the wretched thing the following December, and amid tears and scattered branches and way too much rum, we finally reached an accord of sorts with the white tree.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said. “It won’t bring him back.”
“He would’ve wanted it,” she sobbed. “He loved white at Christmas.”
“One of these days.” – fanning a branch and sighing - “This sort of thing is going to get easier. For now, we'll just decorate the side facing the living room”
White lights, white pines, white snow, bleh. What about a real tree - big gaudy retro lights, red and green and blue? Candy cane stripes and glitter, homemade ornaments? Or . . .
Ah hell, it’s not about color, is it? It’s not about trees, or cookies or candy canes, and we know this because Linus tells us every year. “ . . . the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger . . .' "
Probably the baby wasn’t dressed all in white. The swaddling clothes would have been whatever blankets his mother had managed to tuck away for the journey. Maybe the baby himself wasn’t even white. But we know, don’t we, that He shone with a brilliance, a beauty, a love that He would carry with him throughout his entire life and even after.
There it is. He is our “white” Christmas, people – brighter than the Macy’s Christmas tree, shinier than the Chicago Bean. Gorgeous and perfect and wrapped all in love.
And love, after all, is a multi-colored beast, no?
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