The Christmas Tree

Growing up, I don’t remember our Christmas trees being called anything but that:  The Christmas Tree. It was immaterial if it was a fir, a pine, or a spruce, but it was always fresh and green, with no particular symmetry. My mother never wavered in her tree-decorating style and every Christmas tree in every photo looks like a clone of its predecessor.

This tree stands grandly in our beautiful colonial house in Kingston, Jamaica, in front of a big fireplace that served absolutely no other purpose in the muggy tropical climate of the British West Indies than to fool the self-deluding British into believing they were still in England, and to hold the mantel’s scant bric-a-brac; in this case a small electric clock and a shiny shell holding a pile of napkins that may have been placed there in preparation for a holiday party in the works.

Peeking out at the left is the statue of Kuan Yin, Chinese “Goddess of Mercy and Friend of Mankind.” Evidently friendless in our household, Kuan Yin was mercilessly deemed unsuitable for display after losing a slender porcelain hand, casually dismembered during one of the numerous packings and unpackings that she endured in her lifetime. My mother promises me that the one-handed statue is now carefully wrapped in linen, nestled in a box inside the old ornately inlaid Chinese cedar chest, but I haven’t seen Kuan Yin in so long that I’m pretty sure Mom has forgotten where she parked her.

Over the fireplace is a print by the artist, Maurice Utrillo, who suffered from mental illness throughout his lifetime and whose body of work was composed of hundreds of cityscapes, a repetitive theme from the neighborhood of Montmartre where he lived. A little mental myself, I often gazed at that picture over the mantel, imagining my little self strolling down its quiet street, stopping to knock on its closed doors to visit with the nice people living behind them. The print followed us around the world, hanging wherever my mother determined it most complimented the furniture, until one day, it was gone. It’s possible that the Utrillo print and the Kuan Yin statue fetched a whopping 50 cents or so after making their way to one of the biennial garage sales that my parents held to avoid “carting stuff all over kingdom come.”

The tree is decorated with hand-blown glass ornaments and heavy drooping metal tinsel acquired in Germany. The same bright silver tinsel was re-hung year after year, gradually tarnishing to a dull dark pewter with each use, and on January 7, the dreaded UNDECORATING day, we tediously removed it strand by endless strand from the brittle tree, wrapped it in tissue paper and packed it away in a shoebox.

The following year, my mother, who liked to keep things interesting by frequently re-arranging the furniture, confusing us into believing that we had walked into the wrong house, positioned the tree in front of a large open window off the porch that wrapped around the second story. One night, the entire household was roused from sleep by a horrendous shattering crash. From every direction, mother, father, sister and Susie and a gaggle of terrified wide-eyed maids raced towards the noise to discover our beautiful tree lying among smithereens of glittering glass, blown down by a capricious tropical “breeze.”

As we cried bitter tears over the loss of the beautiful decorations, the graceful tree-top angel and the tarnished tinsel, my sister and I immediately began lobbying for a replacement tree. But, Mom and Dad were having none of it, and on Christmas Day we opened our gifts sitting on the floor under a potted palm.

5 comments on “The Christmas Tree”

  1. I loved it! And now I am on my way home… anxiously awaiting gift opening under OUR decorated sterling little coffee table tree :)!!!

  2. Remembering the Christmas in Athens when you did the wondrous rendition of Scrooge. You absolutely rocked it.! Merry Christmas Susie! Love to you and yours,
    Mary D

  3. A great story. I just saw a Christmas Carol at UNLV . and was reminded of our little productions in Athens. I couldn’t remember who played whom but I know I had several parts.

  4. What ever happened to that tinsel? We had it too, and it wasn’t Xmas without it. AND we had “bubble-lights”… remember those? And garland, lot of garland!! Nobody has any of that these days… Any way, great post! Thanks, cuz.

  5. I just read the whole blog, I love it! I’m so impressed that you understood at such a tender age that “kaka” is indeed universal.


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