It took two weeks to decorate our Christmas tree. Two weeks. The beautiful lush fir tree stood straight and firm in the corner of the living room in its sand pail, patiently waiting for its holiday dressing, but I couldn’t do it.
I was too tired. I didn’t have holiday spirit. I was tapped out.
One night, my daughter Emma, now 20 years old, came home from her job in a long-term care facility she has worked in since just before the pandemic hit. She was tired yet determined that this was the night we would decorate the tree. I couldn’t say no to my daughter. I love her light. She shines with Christmas joy unlike anyone I know.
As is her routine, she came home and immediately changed her clothes, put the day’s scrubs in the washer machine and then went upstairs to wash and freshen up. I made her a tea. We ate dinner late. She told me the day’s stories about the cast of characters, the residents she feeds supper to. I know their personalities by heart now. I listen to her fondness for each person, even the difficult ones, and amusing tales of how her colleagues problem solve the unexpected challenges. There is love in every detail. My daughter is amazing. Her colleagues are amazing, too.
Emma and I then set to work, opening the stacked boxes of Christmas ornaments. One by one, each bulb or dangling decoration had a memory. Her first Christmas bear, her younger brother’s tiny hockey skates. Emma hid the Christmas pickle, her favourite tradition passed to her by our adopted family, Kelly and Bill.
She was ecstatic to find the handmade pottery figurine of our summer cottage, made for us by the family we spend that week with every year: our “cottage cousins.” In a year of disappointments, we made that week happen this August, and though it was different, it was the best week of summer.
My daughter was enjoying her task, but my mind was dwelling on how tree decoration should be festive. Other families are festive. But this was just us two on a work night, nothing special about it. I’m not proud that this was my attitude, but that’s how I was feeling two weeks before Christmas.
My mom had given us a box of a dozen long, thin glass icicles to hang on the tree branches. Beautiful and delicate, each icicle was individually wrapped in tissue paper. I took the task of unwrapping each one, while Emma hung them delicately on the tree. As I struggled to unravel one icicle from the smooth paper, it slipped out of my hands, smashing to pieces on the hardwood floor.
I wanted to cry. I was so angry with myself. What a disaster. What a crap year. Where is the broom? Why can I never find the broom? Negative, negative, negative.
Emma cheerfully reminded me there were still eleven icicles. Her light. Her Christmas joy. A gift Emma always gives me.
We stood back and admired our work. A tree of memories. Perfectly imperfect. That’s us. That’s 2020.
When I reflect on this year, it’s not the challenges I will remember, but the lesson of what I truly value. A compassionate daughter. An amazing family. True friends. An abundance of love. Blessed.