The bare treetop mocked us.
There are a few fundamental laws of the Christmas universe. Decorations will be stored in the last place you look. You always need more Scotch tape. And pre-lit Christmas trees never stay that way. And so, after much cussing and many valiant attempts to replace the fuses (ha!) or plug in old strands preserved by the Ghost of Christmas Decor Past (ha-ha!), we had once again found ourselves buying a supply of electric Christmas cheer long enough to allow Santa Claus to scale the heights of Nakatomi Plaza.
Or to wrap around two-thirds of a typical suburban Christmas tree.
Heather and I stared in frustration at the partially lit plastic pine. And then, inspiration hit. There was still one thing left to try.
Back to the basement. Past the unused bedroom. Back up with a single strand of lights that hadn’t been touched in nearly a year, just enough to complete the puzzle. On they blazed in a burst of – purple and orange?
Heather laughed. “They’re Halloween lights!” she said with a broad smile.
I had to laugh, too. It was incongruous. But somehow, it fit.
Cousin Melanie had not let us down.
Those of you who stop by here regularly may remember Mel, our 21-year-old cousin who lived with us before dying unexpectedly in January. Her passing left a hole in our lives that still hasn’t truly healed. It left a lot of memories that still bring a smile when least expected.
And yes, it also left a long strand of off-season holiday mini-lights waiting for their hour on stage.
Mel was a night owl by nature. But she always had to keep a light on after dark, maybe because of the frequent nightmares that she often kept at bay. And so, one day, she had asked if she could borrow a string of unused lights to decorate her room downstairs.
They stayed taped to the walls, one more bit of eclectic post-teenager style, until a few days after she died. In the cleanup, they had been set aside in a cardboard box and mostly forgotten while other, more personal objects and keepsakes had been tended to.
Now they shone forth again.
They would never be mistaken for the green and blue and red of the season. It was completely obvious where the “normal” lights ended and the new ones began. And yet, it belonged. It not only completed the tree, it made a perfect picture of our lives.
Something bright and colorful and proud to be different had entered the scene. The traditional and the unusual came together and made something new and beautiful– and were still undeniably connected.
No matter what.
Tradition holds a powerful pull at the holidays. You hear the same songs, tell the same stories, see the same specials on TV. It’s the time when we’re most likely to reach out to familiar faces, or when we most notice the ones that aren’t there anymore.
But for all our efforts, Christmas doesn’t stand still. No more than we do.
Every life that touches our own changes it slightly. Every memory that comes our way shapes us, just a little. And every year, these little blendings make even the most traditional time of the year just a little more our own.
That mixing and melding and reshaping slowly creates an image that might seem strange to anyone else. (Really, what is tradition but an oddity continued?) It’s not uniform, but a mosaic, a unique creation of pieces and splinters that shines with its own perfect beauty.
Even if some of it is a little tearstained.
Thanks, Mel. Thank you for one more Christmas gift, one more unforgettable memory. Unique and beautiful, like yourself.
Whatever happens to the tree next year, this light will never burn out.