I put up our Christmas tree today. I realize that puts me a week late on the official Christmas tree display date of the weekend after Thanksgiving and a good month to six weeks late judging by peering into the front windows of neighbors adorned with lighted trees on dark evening dog walks through our neighborhood. It’s a cheap 3-foot artificial tree we purchased at WalMart over 20 years ago for our first Christmas together back in our apartment living days when there was little room and even less storage space for a “full size” tree. I’ll take heat from family members for only putting up the small tree. For years, most of my life actually, they have called me Scrooge, a Grinch, and Charlie Brown. I’ll proudly own Charlie Brown but Scrooge or Grinch I am not.
The Grinch and Scrooge were cantankerous beings who wanted everyone else to be as miserable as they were. But Charlie Brown just felt like there was something missing. Despite all the festive happenings he realized that there was something not reaching the heart of the celebrations. I’m not opposed to genuine joy, cheer, and happiness, but don’t give me the fake versions. What is so hard for me is that people will spend time and money decorating to the hilt and buy more presents than they can afford to make things special for their friends and families and claim it brings them joy but if you asked them to be honest they would talk about the stress of it all. And then the day after Christmas they are back to living like nothing special happened the day before. Genuine joy is relaxing and life-giving yet after just a short time fake joy drains us and those around us. Joy has little to do with how beautiful the decorations, how much and how delicious the food, and how many and how extravagant the gifts. Joy can’t be manufactured. Joy is not in the size of the tree. I’ll admit that part of what brings me joy about the small tree is that it is easy and I’m lazy. Its lives 11 months of the year in our storeroom with its single string of lights on it, ready to just be set on the end table and plugged in. We have a large tree but it involves unboxing, matching color-coded branches to sketchy instructions that were translated into English by Google translate. This involves a lot of snipping and snarling between humans during the setup process. And then several strings of lights have to be added, half of which probably won’t work, causing more snipping and snarling between humans and a trip to Target for new lights. A month later the whole process is reversed to get it back into storage with the added tradition of just shoving stuff wherever to get it done with, guaranteeing that next year will have the appropriate amount of snipping and snarling over broken lights and missing parts. Snipping and snarling between humans is something I just can’t tolerate, even if it results in a 7-foot lighted Christmas tree. I know I could go out and get a pre-lit tree to avoid much of this but ultimately, for me, there is just something so joyful about the simple little tree. I don’t expect that to be the case for everyone. My wish would be twofold. First, may you find true joy in the things you claim make you joyful. And, may we all extend respect and grace to those who find joy in different ways than we do.