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RITE OF PASSAGE: The Memory Tree

Over the last few years, it has fallen upon me to put up the Moore family Christmas tree. I am far from an expert on Christmas trees, but I know that to the normal eye, our tree would not be considered politically correct. I have visited many homes where the Christmas trees are oh, so perfect. Each ornament is part of a master plan, integrated into an overall style and color scheme. These are the trees that you see gracing the cover of Home and Garden Magazine.

You won’t find our Christmas tree on the cover of . . . anything. You might call it more of a “memory tree.” This year, I reached into the box to find the first ornament, which happened to be a clothespin. On some long-ago day, little preschool hands daubed paint onto its rounded top to make eyes. The rest of the clothespin is smeared with paint, too, although not in a way that helps anyone identify it. One day, our son came home from church, proudly holding that clothespin and announcing, “It’s a reindeer!” Almost immediately, the wonderful creation found its place on our Christmas tree-a spot it has held every year since. Although our son is now grown up and lives in another city, it would seem sacrilegious not to put his reindeer in the spot where it has stood sentinel for so many years.

The next ornament I pulled out was a tiny knitted Christmas stocking about two inches long. Its white stripes have turned an off-yellow, but the green and red ones are still holding forth. That miniature stocking was given to me by my mom 57 winters ago and hasn’t missed a Christmas with me yet.

On and on marched the parade of memories as I pulled out the ornaments one by one. Here came the Shrinky Dink Christmas ornaments that I remember being so popular in the seventies. I can still see our oldest son hunched over the dining room table, sticking his tongue out in concentration as he painstakingly colored each one. When he finished, into the oven they went, shrinking down into solid lumps of deformed plastic. Of course, it didn’t matter what any of them looked like. If he made it, we hung it.

For the next hour and a half, I hung one memory after another. Each ornament represents something from our family’s past. Together, they cover the different seasons of our lives, all living side by side on the Christmas tree.

I felt a certain sense of sadness as I hung the last ornament. A circle of construction paper, it was covered with red, white, and green cotton balls pasted in the shape of a wreath. As I stepped back and looked at our memory tree, a thought came to my mind. Not only do these ornaments represent our family’s life but also the many people whose lives have intersected ours. One of those was a Sunday School teacher. One morning, she carefully told the story of the little baby Jesus being born in a manger to a group of little boys, any one of whom could be a poster child for hyperactivity. Next, that same teacher brought out construction paper, guiding my sons’ hearts along with their hands as they pasted colored cotton balls to make a wreath. Twenty-five years later, I wonder if that Sunday School teacher has any idea that the boys’ father is still pulling out that ornament and placing it ever so gently upon our tree for anyone who visits our home to see.

Finally, I topped the memory tree with a star: a star to represent that very special star. Thousands of years ago, the special star shone so brightly that it startled those who got the first birth announcement that night. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Every memory and every person represented by some clothespin or piece of plastic on that tree rests underneath the star. This serves to remind me of the proper place for my family. It also reminds me that the memory tree is really His-tree and contains our histor-tree. And that, my friend, is something you cannot get from one of those tall, beautifully decorated . . . well, you know what I am talking about.

“Oh, Christmas tree; Oh, Christmas tree. It is Jesus that binds our memories. . .”

Walker Moore

Author: Walker Moore

View more articles by Walker Moore.

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