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.