Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonI don’t know about you, but this time of year evokes memories. Decorating our Christmas tree was especially joyful when my children were growing up. I spent hours searching for the perfect tree that we put up the day after Thanksgiving every year. My children and I strung popcorn and cranberries and generally made a big production (and a huge mess on the carpet) of the whole thing. The kids were eager participants until they became teenagers, and then I found myself hopelessly alone with the task. To salvage my sanity, I eventually bought wooden cranberries and abandoned the stringing popcorn thing. Not the best use of my time.

Wanting to relive the memories of my childhood growing up in a 100-year-old house with 12-foot ceilings, I was hopelessly driven to choose a tree that was at least a foot taller (or more) than the ceilings in our home. In my defense, it is hard to gage size when you are outdoors. Those beautiful Frazier Firs always seemed smaller in a wide-open space. Right?

My husband never minded that I consistently brought home a Times Square-sized Christmas tree because he secretly delighted in having an excuse to fire up that blasted chain saw. I’m pretty sure it stirred up some latent lumberjack fantasies.  But let me warn you, this is where “joyful” memories of Christmases past turn ugly.

At first, with my sweetest voice possible, I gently advised and guided him. “It just needs a tiny bit off the bottom. I don’t mind if it scrapes the ceiling a little, and I like it full. Just a little…” But moments after the initial roar of the chainsaw, the scent of fresh sap and pine needles coursing through the air the situation escalated into an all-out war with me screaming over the chainsaw and throwing myself in front of my poor tree crying, “PLEASE STOP!” Jim’s reply never varied; “Well if you didn’t always buy a #@&%*% redwood tree, I wouldn’t have to do this.” And then he would swagger off to the shed perversely satisfied, like Wyatt Earp after the gun fight at the OK Corral.

There would be a long silence for the next few hours at Green Meadow Farm. And God only knows how this ritual traumatized my children who tried to hide their horror by laughing hysterically. In the aftermath, while fighting back tears, I managed to salvage felled branches to make mantel arrangements and wreaths.

But the next day, I discovered as I poured out my grief and pain over the fate to my clients and co-workers at the hair salon that there were other families who endured perennial Christmas tree traumas. Turns out tree decorating isn’t always the storybook, happily ever after Hallmark moment. My behind the chair research revealed story after story of Christmas tree fights, pets of all kinds climbing the tree and having to hanging the tree from the ceiling or putting in the playpen or tying it to the walls, and other stories that can’t be repeated here.  Once, when a woman threw her live tree out in the yard after Christmas, a live opossum climbed out!

It helped to know I wasn’t alone. My recurring chainsaw tree trauma always seemed to resolve itself after a couple of days when the tree was adorned, and the spirit of the season lifted me out of my pout. Then I would stand before our stunningly decorated Christmas tree with pride and say “This is the prettiest tree we’ve ever had.”

May this holiday season be the best you’ve ever had.

In faith and love,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister