Growing up there was always a real tree. It seemed grand and magical. I don't believe we have even entertained the idea of a real tree since we've blended our families. I suppose that maybe one day that's something our kids will ask about. Or they'll walk into a friend's home near the holiday and get a whiff of pine and inquire. But really, it's not something I have any guilt over.
My very first apartment on my own, I had a small but full sized tree. I decorated it with cheap, cute, trendy ornaments. I was independent and happy. I had a house warming party for myself near the holiday, and I was proud of my decorations.
Then I moved to Nevada. My first Christmas away from home. We came by an artificial tree. I don't remember if we purchased it or if we were a charity case. Most likely the latter. I do remember we did not have any ornaments at all. I spent long nights making paper ornaments out of construction paper. I poked ornament hooks through the top and hung them. I'm pretty sure he never noticed, although I distinctly remember doing it for him.
The following Christmases are all lumped together. No presents, no family, no traditions. The holidays were just an excuse for extra time off that was spent in a drug fueled haze (his) and tears shed behind closed doors (mine). We were not welcome at any holiday gatherings. Not even when Madeline was born. His parents picked her up sometime on Christmas Eve and gave her gifts at their house. They dropped her and her gifts off that evening before bed. I hated him on Christmas Eve for making things so bad that I wasn't allowed to be with my baby when she opened gifts. I wasn't the problem, he was. But if I chose my baby and time with his family over him in those days . . . well the consequences weren't worth it.
The last Christmas, before I fled and came home. We had that same tree. We had now acquired ornaments and the tradition of being away from our daughter when she opened gifts. I remember being so sad, so home sick, so lonely. My family had sent gifts. I had been patient and had vowed to not open a single gift until Christmas morning. But one morning a few days before, I woke with the tears already falling, and my heart breaking. I crawled across the living room floor to the tree. And I opened the gifts my mother and grandmother had wrapped and sent. I opened all of them sobbing and shaking. I wasn't impatient. I wasn't unable to wait a few more days. I was missing my family so terribly much, that at that point, I would do anything to be close to them. All I wanted was to open those gifts and hold them close to me. Those shirts, and socks, and baby clothes saved me that Christmas. I was as close to home as I could get.
The following Christmas I did make it home. Home to my mother's house. Christmas fell in month two of my three months of living with my my mother, step-father, and grandmother. It was a welcome holiday. I wasn't in the proper mental state to enjoy it at the time, but my babies and I were home. That was what mattered to me, to them, and to my family.
The next year, was my first Christmas on my own again. I didn't have the time, the money, or the inclination to put up any decorations if I recall correctly. My children were little. My tiny apartment was dreary. It just wasn't in the cards. After that came a new, more lovely apartment and the children were older. I believe a table top tree and some decorations from the discount store were thrust upon me. I was told to "do it for the kids". It didn't make sense to me - the holiday wasn't celebrated in my home. In fact, I distinctly remember after I got that tree up, Josh and his brother stopped by. They spent full minutes in my living room making fun at my tree attempt. All in good fun, but we all knew something was missing and it wasn't really Christmas at my house.
Our current tree followed that table top tree. The truth is, the tree we have that he came home with that first Christmas three years ago: I hate it. It's tall and skinny and takes up hardly any space in our vast living room. But it's my favorite tree. It's a tree that represents love and happiness and respect and stability. This holiday is celebrated in my home with traditions that are being established that the kids are looking forward to and asking about and anticipating. I'm doing my job. It's working. We're coming together as a family. A family that has a tree with the same ornaments they trim with every year. A family that loves one another through all of the ups and downs.
So, in the scheme of trees for me, this is the most beautiful, special tree I have ever encountered. There won't be another one with which it compares.