I stood in front of my Christmas tree back in 2009 and sighed.
It was the epitome of a single girl’s tree, adorned with matching ornaments and a fetching red ribbon. It was small, it was classy, it was shiny…and about as festive as a Tupperware container.
Perhaps it was the battle with cancer I’d recently waged that made it so disappointing. Life—the fullness and messiness of Life—was suddenly more meaningful to me. Or perhaps it was the evening I’d just spent hanging popsicle-stick stables and origami stars on my friend’s family tree.
I stared at my symmetrical display of matching, Made-in-China fare and deemed it insufficient and sad.
For the first time in my life, I longed for a chaotic, eclectic and whimsical array that spoke of common roots and memories.
Christmas can evoke a sense of melancholy in singles, you see. The reasons are as varied as we are. Some wish for a mate to share the holidays with. Some feel left out of family-centered events. Some wonder if they’ll ever have children whose milestones, in ornament form, will transform their sterile evergreen into a family tree.
I sensed the “lessness” keenly as I stood glaring at my immaculate creation. It felt rigid and unforgiving—like that finicky, tight-lipped relative who tsks when you put down your glass without a coaster underneath.
So I decided to transform my tree.
I wasn’t satisfied anymore with the measured distance from perfect bulb to coiled ribbon. The tree looked sterile—barren. Antithetical to my life. I’ve been blessed with more love and beauty and meaning than I could possibly measure, though it has come from different sources than I might have expected when I was younger.
With uncharacteristic boldness, before I lost my nerve, I sat down and wrote an email to every name I recognized on my contact list, then I posted a note on Facebook. I briefly explained my plan, and concluded with:
“If you’ve played even a small role in my life and if you’d like to be a part of the messy, off-kilter, lived-in tree I dream of, would you consider sending me something small to hang on it? Funny, elegant, quirky, homemade, store-bought or traditional…it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll even cover the cost of shipping!”
Then I sat back and waited.
Fast forward to 2017.
At last count, there are 137 ornaments on my tree. All but a handful were given to me.
Each one has the name of a loved one written on it—people who knew me as a child, as a teenager, as an adult. Former students, friends, relatives, colleagues.
I’ve had to invest in a larger tree—what a wonderful need to have!—and one of my greatest joys in every calendar year is dragging those boxes up from the basement and unwrapping the ornaments one by one, remembering the people they represent and whispering gratitude for the Wealth of Life my messy tree displays!
How blessed I’ve been. How blessed I am. I love my messy tree.
Are you single and wanting to trade symmetry for messy legacy? Or do you know a single who might enjoy transforming his/her tree?
Here’s the recipe:
- Make yourself go through with it (even if it feels self-serving).
- Tell the world what you’re doing in person, in writing and on social media.
- Hound your donors if you need to—it’s a busy time of year.
- Supplement what they send with ornaments that are meaningful to you. (I pick up mementos of special places I visit.)
- Turn down the lights and bask in the messiness.
- Repeat every year.
Please share your own single-girl (or guy) Christmas hacks below! Show your support by clicking “Like” and share with your networks by using the social media buttons.
Ah, Michele! I have been single 49 years but I have lived all of those in one country. Maybe that is part of the difference. Maybe it is that I grew up with a messy tree in a traditional southern family. Whatever the reason, a “perfect” tree was never part of my life. Approximately 22 years ago, I bought a 7.5 foot Christmas tree from Lowe’s. I have put it up ever since with about 900 white lights on it. It has slowly filled with ornaments through the years! I don’t think I have more than two that match and there are things on it don’t look like “ornaments” to some people. They are small items that had a special meaning but no specific place to put them in my home. So, they became ornaments. 🙂 The year my young nephew looked at the tree and asked where the “Jesus ornaments” were got me to thinking. I made sure then that I had plenty of ornaments that truly represent Christmas on my tree. My sister-in-law is creative and made me a dozen or so snowflakes for my tree. Traditionally, my Christmas tree goes up the week after Thanksgiving and turns into a “Celebration” tree after New Years so that I can keep it up through January until I start getting comments from my neighbors who have started wondering about my sanity. 🙂
Being single means a large tree takes a lot of time to put up. Sometimes there are people around to help. Sometimes not. I love my tree and do not let my singleness keep me from enjoying it. So sorry I was not on your mailing list in 2009 or I would have been one of those people sending you ornaments. 🙂
Many blessings from the Lord wished for you this Christmas and the new year to come!
Jennifer Ruth Stuck
This is lovely! I do buy myself ornaments each year, and I make it exciting – I know I get to pick ONE ornament to mark this year for me and I always wonder what it’s going to be. I think my favorite one is a metal snowflake that somewhat resembles a stag. I found it in Barnes and Nobles in NY. My grandfather had passed away that day, and we had known it would happen. I didn’t think I would be able to make the funeral, and as a TCK I didn’t stop to think about grief. I carried on with my work and even took a bunch of college students to their scheduled opera performance. It was Il Trovatore, and I don’t know anything much about opera – even though my job at the time was to find these music students cultural events. Well, Il Trovatore is the opera used in the Marx brothers ‘A Night At The Opera’ and the opening scene is the famous anvil chorus. Nothing could sound more like family to me than that sound (because we are huge Marx brothers fans.. not because we love opera) and I felt all the tears floating to the surface. I had brought a friend, luckily, and she told me to take my time. I wandered out to Central Park and just sobbed on a bench. And then because it was night, and, you know, central park, I found a Barnes and Nobles to stay warm in while I composed myself. When I walked in, they had ornaments on display. My grandfather was a typical American – he’d gone over to Scotland and traced his crest. A large stag on a green background. I had always laughed at him for that, but there was the snowflake with a stag in the middle. So I bought it – and after that I decided to look for those moments and items. Now, when people give me chatchkees, I put a hook on them and hang them in the tree as well. I love putting up my little tree, or hanging the ornaments in the window (because I move a lot, and a tree isn’t always in the budget) Thanks for sharing your story, and giving the space for me to share mine.
I no longer buy souvenirs everywhere I travel. I buy one small item I can hang on my Christmas tree. Once a year, I reminisce about all the places and people I love.