A Real Tree

Activated - - NEWS - By Nyx Martin

We chil­dren had al­ways wanted a real Christ­mas tree— a tall, lav­ishly dec­o­rated one, like other fam­i­lies had. It would have “singing” lights, sil­ver tin­sel, and glass or­na­ments dress­ing its snow-topped branches. And of course, the space be­neath it would be over­flow­ing with presents.

But as another De­cem­ber came, our liv­ing room re­mained bare. New Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions were too pricey for a large mis­sion­ary fam­ily like ours, so Mom pulled out the stor­age boxes and made the old dec­o­ra­tions look as good as new. Then she went to work on hand­crafted “stock­ings” made from shiny red pa­per and trimmed with cot­ton balls. My lit­tle sis­ters helped cut and paste. There were 12 stock­ings—one for each of us kids—and Mom strung them up on the stair­case ban­is­ter. My two broth­ers re­vived the old col­ored lights and strung them on the ve­randa.

For a Na­tiv­ity scene, we molded lit­tle clay fig­urines, then baked and painted them. Some­one gave us a set of three cherubs that were the per­fect match un­til we kids—all de­ter­mined to keep re­ar­rang­ing the fig­urines un­til we found the per­fect look—knocked over one of the cherubs and he lost his head.

Then one evening, Dad came home and an­nounced that he had bought a Christ­mas tree. Cu­ri­ous and ex­cited, we all gath­ered in the liv­ing room to in­spect the tree. Our own Christ­mas tree!

“Isn’t it in­cred­i­ble?” Dad was al­ways so en­thu­si­as­tic.

In fact, it was a pa­pier-mâché model of an ever­green, about a foot tall.

“That’s our tree?!” Cue sour ex­pres­sions on twelve faces. “It’s so skinny!” “It’s kinda strange.” “Dad, that’s not a real tree.” “Of course it’s a real tree, honey. Isn’t it great?”

Dad hoped his en­thu­si­asm would catch on. “And look, I bought a match­ing rein­deer to go with it!” With some fan­fare he pro­duced the rein­deer—also made from re­cy­cled news­pa­per.

That was just like my fa­ther! Even though he didn’t have much to spend on ex­tras, he al­ways tried to help those who had even less by pur­chas­ing some of their wares. As a chap­lain in the na­tional cor­rec­tional sys­tem in the Philip­pines, he had col­lected many such hand­crafted items. The

pre­vi­ous year, there had been an in­tri­cately carved bat­tle­ship sit­ting serenely on our li­brary shelf un­til my broth­ers went to war with it. The year be­fore, our house had been filled with glass bot­tles con­tain­ing minia­ture scenes—homes on stilts, tiny match­stick peo­ple, palm trees by the beach.

My broth­ers would col­lect news­pa­pers and old magazines for the in­mates, and my sis­ters and I would help sell their hand­made Christ­mas cards. The prof­its went back to their fam­i­lies.

And now this—our “real” Christ­mas tree.

“I sup­pose we could fix it up,” one of my sis­ters sug­gested. So we set it up on the phone ta­ble, which al­most seemed too large for it. Mom cut or­na­ments from card­board—stars, bells, and candy canes. Glit­ter glue gave the tree a touch of sparkle. I re­mem­bered a pair of plas­tic doves cov­ered in white mesh that I’d found in a whole­sale store. They went up as well. We strung col­or­ful minia­ture lights, which flick­ered pret­tily over Mary, Joseph, Baby Je­sus, and the two and two-thirds cherubs.

Christ­mas came all at once to our merry lit­tle home, and I’ll never for­get it. That year in par­tic­u­lar was a strug­gle for our fam­ily, but it was also one of the most mem­o­rable.

We never got our store-bought Christ­mas tree. In­stead we got one that truly rep­re­sented our fam­ily’s love. Our home was never out­fit­ted with fancy dé­cor, but it was filled with the laugh­ter of happy chil­dren and the melodies of mean­ing­ful Christ­mas car­ols. Santa never fit in with our fam­ily, but you can bet we caught Mommy kiss­ing Daddy some­where near that tree. And as for Christ­mas presents, our par­ents gave us gifts that no amount of money could ever buy.

We spent many happy mo­ments to­gether as a fam­ily. Our par­ents taught us that Christ­mas was for giv­ing of our hearts to oth­ers, and that the same self­less love should color our lives, not only at Christ­mas, but all year round—just like a real ever­green.

Born in Manila in 1981, Nikki “Nyx” Martinez is a mul­ti­me­dia artist and writer. Fol­low her work and jour­neys on www.nyx­martinez.com.

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