Driving around local communities in January, one is sure to spot the Christmas tree mulch site. Some of the trees tossed willy-nilly inside bright orange snow-fence sport strands of tinsel, all that remains of their holiday décor. These annual tugs at my heartstrings should not surprise me since discarded Christmas trees never fail to trigger a sad moment.
I had to think about why this sight makes me pause. Part of it acknowledges the old year has passed. Flipping a calendar page doesn’t have the same effect as that stack of evergreens waiting to run through a mulcher. Seeing wood chips instead of trees forces me to accept the date I write on checks.
The greatest reason this discard pile sets off my emotional Richter scale has to do with Christmas associations. My earliest childhood memories revolve around Christmas trees. I loved the bright bulbs, sparkling tinsel, and my mother’s collection of old ornaments. As a tot, I loved holding character-rich dangling birds and delicate bulbs in my little palm before my mom gently placed them on our tree. I understood even then that they told our family’s story.
My family decorated a modest evergreen that fit in our cozy living room, but a trip to Grandma’s meant I might see blue lights and bulbs on a big aluminum tree. Some seasons a rotating light wheel would hypnotize me with its rainbow of ever-changing colors reflecting off a snow white tree.
As an adult with my own daughters, I preferred modest evergreens similar to those my parents selected. For years, the girls and I tramped the acres of Pinney Pines after Thanksgiving to search for a tree containing a bird nest that was supposed to bring our family good luck in the new year.
Often we slogged over swampy ground until our shoes were gigantic mud blobs so we could find that fir perfectly suited to some bird family. When we got our tree home, we’d discover lop-sided branches or a crooked trunk. The little girls and I didn’t care because it had a bird nest, but my husband, whose job it was to fit the tree in the stand, often wished we’d search for a more balanced showcase for our ornaments.
Once we settled tree in stand, it was time to wrap lights and hang ornaments. As years pass, I come to treasure this moment more and more. Opening the ornament box is like raising the lid on a treasure chest of memory. Wrinkles, weight, and gray hair fall away until I am a new bride decorating a tiny tree with homemade ornaments and one store bought trinket I pinched pennies to buy. First babies, pets, new trucks, ballerinas, mules, horses, Santa fishing, and new house baubles commemorate landmark events in our story. I love to turn on the lights at dawn and give thanks for each ornament and its accompanying experiences.
Some sage said, “One can’t experience joy if one doesn’t know sadness.” This statement suits my Christmas tree dilemma perfectly. If putting away the ornaments and taking the tree to the discard pile didn’t sadden me, I wouldn’t feel near the joy setting it up and hanging those memories that celebrate a lifetime of joys.