Next weekend, we’ll make the long drive to Mike’s Tree Farm — $10 any noble tree, u-cut.
We’ll sip foamy hot cocoa from our travel mugs, sing to Nat King Cole first and then The Muppets. After we’ve walked laps around our last favorites, we’ll pick a tree for our living room and a small one for the girls to decorate in the basement.
We’ll leave a $20 in the coffee can on Mike’s peeling wood porch.
When we return home, my Mike will prep the tree on the front porch, shaking it, trimming it, screwing the trunk into the stand. Then he’ll bring the outstretched arms of the too-big into the front room, and the girls and I will smell outside coming in and see how gloriously green it is, and we might jump up and down or squeal, and we will know it’s Christmas.
Then the unwrapping will begin.
I will unwrap the wooden skiers with pipe cleaner skis and toothpick poles and the trees with button ornaments, made by our dear friend as a wedding gift fourteen years ago.
I will unwrap the snowwoman decked out in cranberry and navy plaid, brought back from North Carolina by Nana. Her arms knotted sticks. And the terra-cotta cross from the Southwest, a glazed red heart at its middle.
I will unwrap the treasures picked for me by my Sis through our yearly ornament exchange. The girls and I will marvel again at how the artist painted Mr. and Mrs. Claus’ cheek-to-cheek dance from the inside of the glass heart.
I will unwrap the snowman from Gaga — the one with wings — who carries a package in tiny hands. One I always hang near the top with birds and angels and other winged things.
One after another, we’ll unfold the treasures.
Yesterday, the first Sunday of December, after an especially full few days and Michael out of town, the girls and I unwrapped the very beginnings of the season. The ones tucked inside lots of layers, the ones that take a while to find.
Before the grand tree joins us, with turkey hands still dancing through our house, we eat hot soup and grilled cheese, then sit on the couch together. Christmas carols played on piano pipe through speakers while we look at Sici’s photos of the Festival of Trees. We zoom in on the colors of the tree outfitted with African animals and the carved gourds — shades of the harvest painted across winter green.
We pull out some of our favorite Christmas books, read about Mortimer the Mouse making room for Baby Jesus in the manger.
We lay out our own nativity scene, pulling one plastic piece after another from the box. There’s the wise man with the feather in his elegant turban, plucked from one of our pillows to replace the one that fell out that first year. There’s the baby Jesus wrapped in toilet paper because it didn’t seem right to leave him cold. There’s Mary and Joseph, the shepherd, the camel. The mama sheep that J makes sure we place right beside her lamb.
And there’s the angel placed at the top of the scene, watching the miracle that’s unfolding below.
I head to the kitchen to clean a few dishes while the girls read the Christmas stories they’ve written. They are a murmur of voices, and then I hear Sici’s alone, and she is reading aloud to J and Lala. The three girls are squeezed together on the couch, unexpected sunshine streaming through the windows.
Our house looks far from Christmas perfection, but we’ve begun to unfold the gifts.
Of slow. Of time. Of together. Of simple.
One small layer after another.
Every Monday, Amber Haines of The Runamuck, leads an exploration of voice in writing, in which we use concrete words to express the abstract. Please visit Amber’s to read her glorious writing and that of other writers and friends who link up there. This week’s piece began with the prompt “THE ORNAMENT.”