Decorating for Christmas has been difficult this year. My wife died in March. Christmas was a big season for her.
She had five tubs and four boxes full of decorations stored in our basement. They came out every December.
She had Christmas quilts to hang on the walls. Christmas candles to set on the windowsills. Christmas wreaths, Christmas ribbons, even Christmas pot holders.
I’m not mocking her efforts. For her, Christmas was a work of art, a time to create beauty.
The Bible portrays Wisdom, given a feminine personality, as being present with God at the time of creation. She was there, says Proverbs 8, when God made the heaven, the sea, the earth.
Author Frederick Buechner muses, “It was as if he needed a woman's imagination to help him make them, a woman's eye to tell him if he'd made them right, a woman's spirit to measure their beauty by… As if it was her joy in what he was creating that made creation bearable.”
Wisdom, Buechner explains in “Whistling in the Dark,” “is a matter not only of the mind but of the heart.”
Our Christmas tree, particularly, traced the 60 years of our marriage.
In the beginning, all we could afford was tinsel, draped like icicles. Over time, we added a variety of glass balls, gradually getting bigger, brighter. We bought souvenirs, brass or crystal, sometimes ceramic, to remind us of our travels.
And Joan embroidered — her passion — dozens and dozens of, I don’t know what to call them, cloth ornaments to hang on the tree.
Sometimes the tree itself was almost invisible beneath its decorations.
But one thing remained constant, for all those years.
The ornament at the very top of the tree was a blown glass spire, pointing upwards.
Joan brought that spire into our marriage. I don’t recall its origins. It may have been part of her family tradition even before it became part of ours.
I couldn’t face decorating a nine-foot Christmas tree all by myself this year. I replaced it with a smaller tree. I couldn’t hang all those decorations on the smaller tree. So I chose a selection, representative of all the baubles we used to hang.
But when I went to slip Joan’s fragile spire onto the top of the tree, it imploded in my hands. Shards of silvered glass showered down the tree, onto the floor and furniture. There was no way I could repair it.
So the symbol of continuity is missing this year.
Continuity will be missing for a lot of people this year, I expect. Whether you call it Christmas, or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Los Posadas, it’s usually a time to gather the clan, to share stories and dreams, to “eat, drink, and be merry” — another phrase from the Bible.
Except that there will be no big family reunions this pandemic year. No overflowing worship services. No massed choirs singing familiar carols.
The Post Office has been overloaded, shipping parcels that would otherwise have been delivered in person.
Like the broken ornament that can’t go on the top of my tree, some old traditions may not be recoverable.
Life may not go back to normal, even with the arrival of vaccines. Masking and distancing are likely to be around for most of next year, until enough of our populations have been protected. And maybe longer, if the coronavirus mutates that way the flu virus has.
Long ago, Joni Mitchell wrote, “And the seasons, they go round and round/ and the painted ponies go up and down…”
Even a carousel must shut down, occasionally, for servicing. Ponies need repainting.
Pandemic precautions may force us to reconsider what’s really important to us at these special seasons.
Some of the changes we have experienced may turn out to be permanent; some will not.
In pandemics of the past, no doubt most of the people hoped that things would return to normal. They didn’t.
The Black Death was also the death of feudalism, the birth of a middle class. The 1918 flu forced re-thinking of public health, a recognition of poverty and discrimination as health issues.
We won’t know what happens, until it happens.
Although I can’t put Joan’s spire on the top of my tree anymore, I can continue to have a tree. The loss of one precious thing doesn’t make everything else worthless.
So as 2020 winds down, let us cherish what we have, and let go peacefully of what we can no longer have.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com