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Every Precious Thing

My Christmas tree tells a story of light and dark, of the weighty and sacred sweep of my life.

Here is a miniature stocking my Grandmama Watson handed me 50 years ago, lifting it down from her sparse little tree and offering me the small treasure stuffed with a peppermint stick.

Here is a felted tin soldier my mother sewed 41 years ago upon the occasion of my son’s first Christmas. 

The words “First Christmas in Vermont” on a stained-glass wreath were etched by my husband’s sister who died 35 years ago when the oldest of her three children was six.

A cardboard circle caked with glue and green glitter and adorned with red pistachio shells was offered to me in soft 3-year-old hands – a priceless gift he constructed at daycare.

There’s the star I embroidered with my husband’s name when he was 32 and I was 29. There’s the ornament commemorating my son’s first Christmas, then the one doing the same for my grandson and then for my granddaughter. There’s the stuffed velvet square embroidered by a wild-woman poet who was a dear friend and who died many years ago in a car crash. And there’s so much more, even a rubber chicken sent by friends to remind us of late-night laughs and too much wine.

The annual search for the perfect tree on which to display our memories makes memories as well. Once, we walked deep into the forest far up in the Northeast Kingdom in a perfect snow-globe scene set against the blue-white mountains. There was a child on my husband’s back, a child pulled in a sled, and dear friends out in front, breaking the path as we searched. Sometimes we searched in our own forested land in Adamant, and other times we searched at the tree farm down the road. But no matter where we found it, when we adorned each tree it became a portal into the times of our lives.

Each ornament conjures a person, a place, a time, and nearly forgotten moments. Holding one, I touch my beloved father-in-law when he was still a sailor. Holding another, I see my much-missed brother-in-law when he was still a painter. I see myself and my husband when we were young. I laugh with friends. I pick wildflowers and taste wild-raspberry jam. I touch the extended hands of my mother and grandmother. I rock my child in my arms.

Christmas trees symbolize fertility, new life, the continuity of life, light in the darkness of winter, faith. At this much-loved time of year, in these most challenging of circumstances, in this cold and beautiful season, let us still be thankful for warm memories. The light will surely return.