Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Year without a Christmas Tree

As much as I do or don’t buy into whatever the latest thing is… I had always had a Christmas tree. That is, until the year, when the money just wasn’t there, it seemed wasteful to spend any amount of money on a tree. Gifts too were not except for out-of-state family that sent packages for the kids, as we let everyone know we couldn’t reciprocate. We could barely put the money together for greeting card postage. It was truly depressing.

In the midst of my great depression, the gift I received that year from my children was permission to have or not have a tree. To have or not have gifts. They missed those things, sure they did. It’s part of their culture. Sure, they would have liked gifts but they were happy with a bag of oranges and their parent’s stories of Family Christmas’ long gone and ancestors long dead.

What amazed me was with what grace they sympathized with my parental dilemma. I was wondering if this experience would be among the list of things a Freudian therapist would spend unending amount of time analyzing the impact of a tree-less holiday on a youth in an American home.

I cried about my parental financial failure, which was completely out of my control, symbolized by no tree. I live in a country that says it’s rich but hates the poor. I feared being pushed to the lowest rung. All those thoughts that loom in a parent’s mind about poverty and children, statistics of success (or lack thereof) after utter regional economic devastation; these were the thoughts that over took me. Was the area going to pick up in time for us as a family? Were we going to have to move again? The house was on the market, but no interest in our house, as thousands that faced foreclosure let their homes go for what they owed, in a market that was over-built and over extended? What were we going to do? As the country’s manufacturing, skilled labor, and professional classes become increasingly similar, increasingly crunched within the narrowing social strata… paycheck to paycheck the norm, debt ever mounting, savings decreasing and the Golden Rule all but Abolished… was my family going to make it?

I thought of the time, we lived when things were bright and care-free, our grandparents had worked for a better nation. They saw the dawn of a new age; jobs for the jobless, homes for the homeless as well as time and money for the middle-classes to raise families, play, take vacations, have Christmas trees for everyone. I remember the arrogance of my high school friends, all those years ago, we made statements about the American culture, as if we weren’t participating in it, yet kept traditions, like the tree within our homes. Many in my group weren’t Christian, some subscribed to other religions, some to no religion at all. Still the tree was a common icon within each home in December. I, like my friends, had invested interest in the tree.

So tree-less for the first time in my life, my kids helped me see that Bob Cratchet didn’t have a tree but he did have his family. He had a much better Christmas than others in the story. We didn’t have a tree but we did have each other. And it was true we spent the holiday with the ones we love most. Still I had hoped to have a measure of success higher than a 19th century clerk.

Come springtime, I was ready to face the fact that I’m materialistic, perhaps it part of being human or American, or a woman, I don’t know. But even as I review the lessons taught me that tree-less year, I must report this year, we have a tree. And a Very Merry Tree it is too!

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