How decorating the Christmas tree can change and fill the heart (Inspirational).

A few days ago, my wife and I put up the Christmas decorations. This year, it would be different as it was just the two of us in our home.

Our six children, now grown and living in different places, are beginning to establish their own experiences and traditions for a holiday. At first, I didn’t care whether there was a tree, ornaments or a baby Jesus and manger scene on the piano. Who was going to be there to enjoy it with us? All I saw was the emptiness and the home void of our traditional December activities in preparing for Christmas morning.

Much like the first time I held my oldest daughter following her birth, not knowing how to be a father, I didn’t know how to be alone.

Begrudging, with a bah humbug cloud to my demeanor, I retrieved the boxes full of decorations from storage to get it over as quickly as possible.

First, we moved the sofa to make room for the tree. Next, we pulled our artificial scotch pine from its box, connected the parts, strung the lights, and prepared to hang the ornaments. In years past, my official decorating participation would end here. The children would take over with hanging the ornaments and dressing the home with Christmas decorations gathered during the previous 35 years as a Family. This year we split the duties between my wife and me. My wife set up the manger scene and holiday knickknacks, and I hung the ornaments.

The ornaments were consolidated into two small boxes and had been carefully packed from last season. I quickly placed the first few ornaments on the tree as I opened the boxes. The next ornament I handled was one I had made for my mother when I was a boy. And an unexpected transformation began. I felt like a child whisked away, rediscovering Christmases I had all but forgotten.

My first experience was the Christmas mornings in Las Vegas during the ’60s and ’70s. My mother was a single mom, raising three children without much help from my dad. She worked the graveyard shift as a waitress at the Horseshoe Club. Every Christmas was usually split between going over to my dad’s for Christmas Eve for our first Christmas and then being brought home Christmas morning for our second Christmas with mom.

I think it was the Christmas when I was 12; I remember the most. As my dad dropped us off at our home, we brought our presents from dad to my mom’s home, unlike previous Christmases. And oh what a Christmas it was, more toys and things than a child could wish for.

Inside the home, we laid new gifts on the couch and excitedly dove into discovering and unwrapping our second Christmas with mom. Within just a few minutes, the few presents mom could secure on her limited income were unwrapped. I had received everything I had asked for. Christmas couldn’t have been better. Then I turned to mom as she sat on the couch to thank her for what I thought was a wonderful Christmas. She was alone, with no presents to open, tears streaming from her eyes, and said, “Barry, I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”

How do you respond as a child? I simply replied, “Mom, my Christmas is perfect. Thank you.”

I understood for the first time the sacrifice and loved my mother was offering for her children. When I looked at the things my father had purchased, they lost all value to me because they had not been given in love but, despitefully, to hurt my mom.

Next came four ornaments from my last Christmas in Germany as a missionary in a bit of Hof city. They were the wooden soldiers and the birdhouse, and that was the year my companion burned down our tree.

In Germany, there is a tradition to light candles on the tree. Our tree was about five feet tall, skinny and dried like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. In addition to a few wooden ornaments, we had placed a few candles on the tree as decoration. While in the kitchen preparing our Christmas Eve feast, my companion shouted, “Help! Help! Fire! Fire!” I went into the room, and our tree was in flames.

My companion, against my warning, decided he wanted to light the candles. We got the fire out; however, we could not save the tree. It was black with no needles. The apartment smelled of a smoldering fire. We did everything we could to clean up the mess, which took until 2 or 3 a.m. To get the smell out of the apartment, we left the window open. It was one of the coldest nights I can remember. The following day for Christmas, we rehung the ornaments on the tree and opened our presents. It’s a Christmas memory that literally burned a special place in my heart and will always bring a smile.

One by one, as I uncovered each of the ornaments, memory after memory of Christmases past were brought into view. One of my favorite memories was the 1992 Christmas in West Jordan, and that was the year we began what would become our Family tradition I will refer to as a Christmas Treasure Hunt.

That year rather than having all the presents under the tree on Christmas morning, each of the children was presented with a Christmas paper-wrapped container filled with candy and a letter from Santa. Oh, what a shock the children had when there was only one gift for each of them under the tree, to their amazement. One by one, they opened their present and read aloud their letter from Santa, “Merry Christmas. It’s time to start your Christmas adventure. Solve one riddle at a time. Search out and find one gift at a time. Once you have found your present, return to let the next person in line begin their quest.”

Each letter was filled with Christmas riddles and clues. Solve the riddle to find your present. The gifts were hidden throughout the home under tables, closets, beds, and even inside the washing machine. In the years that followed, every member of the Family has eagerly awaited finding his letter from Santa under the tree to begin the Christmas Treasure Hunt quest.

As our children start their families, we see them continue the tradition and create their versions of the Christmas Treasure Hunt.

Within a couple of hours, my wife and I decorated our home. This year, the decorations had more meaning than in past years because I took time to remember and write down those memories not to be forgotten. It’s a new chapter for my wife and me, but it was a significant time for us as we remembered Christmases past; we still have many more Christmases present and future to share alone and with our children and grandchildren. I look forward to the memories that will be created.

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