Nobody wants to take the Christmas tree down. Nobody wants to volunteer to dismantle a symbol and backdrop to joy, laughter, tradition and family togetherness. So here I stand. Once again. Alone. Taking one for the team. Sucking it up and getting the job done. I could totally make myself a martyr here and take a stand atop the self-righteous soap box, but truth be told it’s a cathartic experience for me to round out the year that makes me ok to stand in the bittersweetness of it all.
There’s a surprising goodness in the sadness. I stood in the quiet, a sharp contrast to the music and laughter of the many that assembled it and I reflected on the tree, the year that has been and the family we have built over the life of this tree. I’m mindful that this year one of my expanding family never got to see this tree standing, let alone decorate it, admire it, or sit around it Christmas morning. He just missed it… and we missed him. I thought of him and all he’s come to mean to us over the years and the happy-sad of it all washed over me, only to be interrupted by his call. Gosh, I love him.
Removing my photo ornaments first saw nostalgia pack a solid punch. These ornaments tell the story of our family over the years and my love for storytelling and connections make them my favourite items on the tree. As I reached for these ornaments, Kindy photos of daughters now married and moved out smiled back at me. Sparkly eyes, dimpled cheeks and infectious smiles filled my heart with joy and gratitude. What a lot of life we’ve created together, walked with one another through and celebrated many miles of milestones! What a privilege to be their Mum. One of my all-time favourite things to be in this world.
Stripping off the remaining baubles, lights and all things pretty, this family masterpiece began looking plain in comparison… and yet I admired its raw and authentic form. I’ve not enjoyed the stripping back parts of this year and with my friends and family I’ve processed those feelings of having things I loved stripped away. Some have been my choice; some have been forced upon me and some (like all things seemingly can be in 2021!) are thanks to a pandemic. I’ve learnt to move through life this year with less. The less has over time made room for the more. Deeper relationships. Authentic conversations. Time for processing grief and loss, pondering possibilities and being more present in the present – which has been a gift!
As I folded and squished all the branches together to stuff this magnificent tree in a dull old cardboard box, I was reminded of the times this year I too have felt squished and stuffed in a box I didn’t feel I belonged in. The artificial branches scratch at my arms as I try to smooth them down sharing in the experience of the bristliness of being moved against your will. That sense of not fitting and not liking the not fitting but being unwilling to change who you are just to fit a box someone else made for you. Fitting in is the cheap counterfeit of belonging and I have no time or taste for it. Though ironically my tree is fake, my endeavour is to never be that, but to find ways to build connection and belonging which only happen through people being real and showing up as they truly are. I choose the fake Christmas tree for convenience and neatness, but in relationships I’d rather the mess of real any day! It’s been a year of deepening real relationships, risking showing up as a bare tree and letting the fake fall to the floor. It’s felt frightening and freeing simultaneously!
So, if you haven’t taken your tree down, or you’re hoping if you leave it long enough someone else may do it, let me encourage you to take a moment to take stock of your Christmas and the year it has been. The prettiness, the scratchiness, the plainness, the pain and the joy… Sit in all the feelings of your Christmas and season and reflect. Don’t carry things into next year that you can deal with now. Take things off the tree; consider, reflect, release and pack up in a way that you can travel a little lighter into the new year. Feelings are not good or bad – they just require feeling. Give yourself permission, compassion and grace as you stand before your tree and the Christmas that has just been and unpack it to pack it. You’ll be glad you did.