I have gone back to my journal of last year and read of the frantic pace of that Christmas signifying what used to be “normal”–before Covid-19. I have forty years of journals. I could review each and every Christmas. I’m sure they would all be as frantic. This Christmas, however, is different. For one, there is no tree. I haven’t dragged out the enormous green plastic tub containing our family scrapbook of very odd ornaments, because there is no tree to display them. People ask sometimes, “Do you still have your wisdom teeth hanging on the tree?” (No. They disappeared in the last few years.) “Is that a mouse trap?” (Yup. A wedding present from a friend in New York [long story]). And there’s a hair curler, baby shoes, a piece of Christo’s “Gates” from Central Park, a mouse-chewed electrical wire, a wooden ball with the words of Philip Larkin’s “This be the Verse,” and a silk bow tie that was once worn to the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island. But there is no 10- to 12-foot Frasier fir to honor Christmas and our lives these last 49 years. Covid-19 is killing people. I couldn’t see the point of the Tree.
So, however, there is a wreath.
I thought, at first, it would be a concept piece–a vehicle for our wishes, dreams, or gratitudes, like surviving, thus far, in this cockamamie year. (It’s only December 21st, so there’s still time for more catastrophe.) The wreath might be our version of a sort of wailing wall, where we could tuck little pieces of paper relating to this year, 2020, and it’s various trials and successes. I believe finishing a fifth draft of a novel is a sort of success. Getting a kitten has been a real mood booster. More time sitting with my husband having some really interesting conversations, as we both go through old files of letters. But out in the world, people are dying.
My husband said “I don’t want the wreath to have anything to do with Covid-19 or politics.” I agreed. So the wreath remains blank–a tabula rasa. It’s just a great, green, fragrant, balsam zero. It has no history. Nothing fraught with meaning. It is so very plain and pleasing. I love the wreath. I sit and stare at it, and it makes me feel happy and peaceful.
Next year will be the fiftieth year of our unique Christmas Tree. Fifty years ago, 1971, my not-yet husband, his roommate, and I dragged a tree home from the Eighth Avenue A&P in New York City. We had no lights, no decorations, so we made snowflake stars and cut things out of magazines, strung popcorn and added odd bits of things lying around, like my wisdom teeth, and sometime later, the mousetrap was added by the roommate, Herbie, who died some years ago of pancreatic cancer. It seems odd to remember that particular death amid all the suffering now.
Next year, we’ll be vaccinated, have a new president, a new Episcopal bishop in Albany, familiar faces again in writing workshops and retreats, more trips to the Adirondacks to see old friends. Then it will be Christmas again with the familiar tree and its messy ornaments. And one very large, very plain and peaceful wreath. The wreath will be a reminder that Christmas, and life in general, can be made much, much simpler. That we should be so lucky to be simply alive.