A Christmas column. What can be said that hasn’t been written, spoken, felt and lived about Christmas? As I contemplate the importance of the season, for both Christians and those embracing spiritualities uniquely their own, it seems that love, peace, and the rightness of care, concern, compassion, and commitment are universal messages.
My kids have a mom who’s not so great in the kitchen. In fact, as they have grown, I guess my gift to them has been words.
And so today I want to share a true story that I recorded in 1979 for my firstborn with whom I’ve shared the magic of things-first, the mandate of newness that is the position of the first child.
Benjamin sat in his little arm chair, chubby elbows perched on his knees. He was watching the sky outside. As the sun dipped to the other side of the world, the little fellow ran to the kitchen.
“Mommy. Mommy. Lights on my trees,” he exclaimed.
And as the plug went into a wall socket, his face broke into delight. There in the corner of his living room, right beside his chair, was his tree. The first tree he’d ever known in his house. The first Christmas Tree he would ever remember.
And, delightful as its ornaments were, Benji loved the tree’s bright lights. Yellow, red, green, and white–they declared all the excitement of Christmas.
The ritual of his tree lighting happened every day, as the sky outside turned to dark and the little boy knew he could ask for his tree to be lit.
He’d sit, contemplating its beauty, easing himself off the chair to kiss a dangling mouse, a gingerbread boy, or touch one of the glittering birds of paradise. He’d finger the tree’s sharp needles, poke carefully at its lights, and then sit back down to think about it some more.
Yes, Benji was in love with his Christmas tree. When his friends Kingsley, Dallas, Erinn, Amanda, and Andrea came to visit, he proudly bounced over to it.
“My tree,” he’d announce. “My tree!”
Christmas came, and Christmas went, and while Benji paid little attention to packages, bows and ribbons, the daily delight of tree lighting remained constant for him.
One day, a long while after Christmas had passed and the new year had begun, Benji heard his Christmas Tree talk.
“Benji, come here for a minute,” it whispered.
The little boy ran over, putting his ear to a branch.
“Benji, I’ve got to go. My needles are dropping with all this heat in your house. My arms are getting tired from holding up all these ornaments.
“And, besides, my friends, the other Christmas trees, will be around to pick me up for our holiday,” said the tree.
“No. No. No,” said Benji. “My tree. My tree.”
A few days passed and Benji’s mother brought in some big boxes one evening.
“Benji,” she said, “it’s time to say good-bye to your tree. It’s time to put the apples and mice and gingerbread boys back in their boxes. It’s time to take the ornaments to the attic until next Christmas.”
Slowly, together, they removed the special hanging toys from the tree’s branches. Benji kissed each one as he put them away in their boxes. He kissed the red velvet bows and the gingham ties. He kissed the tiny copper kettles and pots, and he said goodbye to the sequinned Santa and owl and camel and reindeer. He said a special goodbye to the papier maché angel which had the highest spot of all, guarded on her watch by three calico mice.
His mom gave him one ornament to keep in his playthings, to remind him how beautiful his tree had been.
When all the decorations were put away, the tree stood alone, holding only those special lights. Red, green, yellow and white, they twinkled at Benji, reminding him that something very wonderful had happened to him and his house that year. He watched as his mother unhooked each light, and he stood by as she folded the long string into a parcel to go into the light box. But, before she could close the lid, he grabbed the lights, and ran to his room crying, “my lights, my lights.”
Reluctantly he parted with his twinkling friends. Reluctantly he watched as she took the tree from its red stand and poured out the last bit of water.
“Benji! Come and kiss me good-bye,” whispered his tree, rustling its branches as it spoke. “Come and touch my needles so you’ll remember how sharp they feel.
“Oh, I’m excited,” said his tree. “I’m going back outside where it’s winter, where it’s cold and white and wonderful. I’ll stand by your window tonight, but you watch tomorrow… I’ll join my friends as we begin our holiday.”
Benji did watch as his tree stood vigil for the night outside the living room window. He sat on the table in front of the window, his elbows resting on the sill.
And then he sobbed.
“My tree, my tree,” he said, pleading with his mommy to bring it back.
And then he heard his tree…”Bye Benji, I’ll be back next year. I’ll tell you all about my holiday, all about the other trees and what they wore at Christmas.”
Next morning, Benji watched solemnly as the tree truck pulled up in front of his house. Dozens of trees, some still wearing their Christmas tinsel, were waving at his tree. “Hurry up, we’re leaving. Did you have a good Christmas?” they called to their newest arrival.
Benji listened hard and heard his tree’s soft voice…
“Sure did. I’ve made a really special new friend.”
The truck snorted into gear and moved on up the street.
And slowly Benji waved good-bye.
. . .
Nothing is a pure as the untainted generosity of a child. I wish for you this holiday the magic and the pureness of that love.