My parents came to Cambodia to celebrate the American version of Thanksgiving with us, and they stayed for the traditional setting up of the Christmas tree. After we finished stringing the lights and hanging the ornaments, and the youngest child had placed the heirloom angel from my husband’s childhood on top, we all sat down to admire the tree.
Then all of us, from the sixty-year old Grandpa, right on down to the four-year old baby of the family, shared what we love about Christmas. When we got to my mom, she said, “I love putting the ornaments on the tree because they tell the story of our family.”
It’s true. As a military wife, she can remember both the year she added each ornament, and the place we lived at that time. The ornaments on her tree tell the story of my family of origin, from a newly wedded couple in El Paso, Texas, to brand new parents in Fort Knox, Kentucky, to a growing family in West Germany, and later a university campus in South Dakota and the Kansas Army post at Fort Riley.
The Christmas tree tells the story of my own growing family as well. I remember which Christmas we bought this Santa, or that snowman, or this lighthouse. My kids love to hear the story of each ornament my husband and I bought together, and also the stories behind the ornaments from both my husband’s and my childhoods. Then they beg us to let them put the ornaments on the tree.
And we let them. Their participation sometimes leads to ornaments being bunched on one side, leaving the other side barren. Other ornaments are nearly falling off the branches. But I believe letting our children place those precious ornaments on our tree allows them to claim ownership of their own family history. Our tree is a Memory-Keeper: it holds our memories and reflects our family culture. Like my mom’s before me, our tree is full of life and love. And personality.
So you won’t find a perfectly trimmed tree around our house. The ornaments are mismatched, and sometimes even broken. Their placement is uneven. But to us, it’s beyond beautiful — our Christmas tree is a mosaic of our lives. And that mosaic, orchestrated by God and experienced by us, is beautiful.
Why do I sing the praises of our Christmas tree? Well, we here at A Life Overseas are the global nomads. We are the ones who support global nomads, the ones who dream of being global nomads in the future, the ones whose bodies used to roam the globe and whose hearts still do. And really, it doesn’t matter if you’re not any of those things. In an increasingly mobile world, we all need to ground our stories in something. For me and my family, one of those somethings is our Christmas tree.
Our story is embedded in our Christmas tree. The ornaments tell the story of my family. My question for you, then, is how do you tell the story of your family? Single people, married couples without children, parents, retirees — all of us — need ways to tell our stories.
How do you tell yours?