Saturday, December 6, 2008

Our First Christmas

Art by Guy Untereiner

It was hard to fit all our Christmas Spirit into our miniature one-bedroom mobile home. We were the new kids on campus, married in September, and excited to start our own brand-new family traditions. They were bursting out of us.

Our first Christmas, 1969

I cut and glued the stockings, and stitched them by hand. You'll notice the fold-out cardboard nativity scene on our mantle, which cost an extravagant $3.00. But the piece de resistance was our Christmas tree.

Could we fit a tree in our 8' x 35' home?

We celebrated our 3rd month anniversary with a visit to the doctor's office where we found that I was, indeed, with child. Thrilled as only first-time unsuspecting parents can be, we dashed out to buy a full-sized evergreen tree: symbol of our ever-growing, everlasting little family.

Prickly and green, it perfumed our tiny home with the smell of the forest. It was tucked into the corner where it fit perfectly, and only needed a little embellishment. We couldn't afford lights, or new ornaments, so we were creative. Strands of popcorn, and tissue-paper-snowflakes were crafted and hung, along with Christmas cards tied with little bows. We borrowed a few shiny blue ball's from Dee's mom, but I still thought we needed a touch of red.

The cost of a package of cranberries stretched the budget too far, so we accepted our tree for what it was and went to bed. The next morning I was surprised to see beautiful red swags encircling the tree. Dee had strung red pyracantha berries that he picked off the bushes outside our trailer. Shiny and red at first, they shriveled up very quickly, so every morning until Christmas, Dee threaded new strands for fresh garlands. (Leaving me a little kindness-surprise in the morning is still a Dee trademark.)

Year 2, New Trailer

By Christmas 1970 we had moved up in the world. We bought a 12' wide, brand-new trailer, with two bedrooms and room for our new baby. We had a store-bought advent calendar, imported from Denmark no less, to decorate our kitchen...

Marty at Christmas, 1970

...and money for lights and real cranberries. But the only memory I have of our tree is just what you see in this photo.

Over the next 35 years we had trees decorated by creative professionals; we collected precious ornaments from foreign lands; we had cathedral ceilings allowing towering trees, and a fireplace crackling as nine of us strung popcorn and cranberries to strains of John Denver. For a couple of years our house was featured as part of a home tour to see the unique decorations. It was prettier every year, but more exhausting and less fun. I became so wrapped up in decorating , and lost in the forest of trees, that I couldn't see how lovely the Christmas season was.

Now we've come full circle, and we're back to one little tree, very simply decorated, sitting in the corner of a cozy apartment we love. It's our 40th Christmas, and we stroll through the aisles of our memories like we would a Christmas festival. Some years blend together, and we sort out which aisles we've visited twice and which ones we've accidentally skipped over.

But, our first Christmas, and the tree without lights, is my brightest memory. It represents our hope for the future, our willingness to sacrifice the frills of past Christmases and start fresh, with nothing but each other.

Nowadays we're still stringing our life together, day by day. (And this year we might have to go back to pyracantha berries!) But every Christmas reminds me to be excited about the season I'm in, and the need to be evergreen.

Art by Guy Untereiner

13 comments:

kenju said...

This is a beautiful post, Marty, and it reminds us to remember our roots and beginnings, wherein the sweetness of the season lies.

Polly said...

Your first Christmas tree could be mine, in my trailor...in fact I thought that was me in the picture. I had a robe just like that, or was that your robe? We certainly have lived alot of the same things...are we sisters?

Keri(th) said...

This is one of the sweetest posts I have read, the kind that should be published in some wonderful column or magazine or book on your life. I even dragged Ryan over to the screen to read it which lead to a discussion centered on our first Christmas 12 years ago.

p.s. you could have made extra money as a model (perhaps even enough for some cranberries)! Those dazzling eyes and hairdo were (still are) spectacular!

i'm kelly said...

i love this!

Christie said...

You have always had the ability to see the glass half full - it's one of my favorite things about you.

gab said...

Perfect post. I'm going to link it right now!

andrea said...

this was so well-written and poignant. your family has a gift for reaching the reader. thanks for sharing!

wenderful said...

I love your pictures. I think our first Christmases were some of our best too. They were so simple and humble. Thanks for the reminder.

Sheri said...

Wonderful reminder of simpler times and how the joy of Christmas is in the heart, not in the decorations or gifts.

marta said...

this is sweet, what a newlywed christmas really should be. thanks for setting good roots.

Rochelleht said...

That was beautiful. My parents also celebrated their first Christmas in 1969 but they were even more poor than you! Their tree was a tumbleweed. But still in a trailer...

Robin said...

I loved this so much. I too remember our first Christmas very fondly.

Jenibelle said...

Our first tree was like everything else we owned, or really, had been given...a hand me down. Everything on the tree except one Hallmark "First Christmas Together" ornament came from our parents.Those first simple years are the best of our lives, I sometimes want them all back (with the wisdom of now). Beautiful post. Beautiful.