Remember Christmas a year ago

December 24, 2021. Flagstaff

I remember Flagstaff, the pine trees lording over the landscape, filling the forests, tall and majestic. I remember the smell of butterscotch in the air, the tree hugs, inhaling deeply as we wrapped our arms around thick, sturdy barks. I remember walks in the woods — pine needles on the ground, a soft carpet, some fallen branches, an occasional felled tree. I remember the light peeking through branches surrounding the house, pine needles falling on the wooden porch, sweeping them back onto the forest floor.

I remember Friday, Dec. 24, 2021.

It was quiet in Kachina as the afternoon light began to fade and gray shadows painted the sky with new hues. Some houses on the block had strung Christmas lights draped over fences and small pine trees in the front yard. They began to glow as the sky turned dark. The ground was muddy and cold, small patches of snow here and there. The air was crisp and clean. Our house was dark and quiet. But we were used to that — being Jewish, we didn’t celebrate Christmas. We never had a Christmas tree. When the kids were small, we would pile into the car and drive carefully through treacherous snowy Chicago nights to look at houses decorated with lights, snowmen, trees and an occasional Santa, reindeer pulling his sleigh as he flew through the air. “Sprinkle houses” Maya called them, naming them after the sprinkles she so generously poured over cupcakes and cookies. It was clear that she longed for a Christmas tree. On Christmas morning we would come downstairs to find that our houseplants had been decorated with paper chains and hanging pieces of tin foil.

As 4 o’ clock rolled around, Uri and I looked at each other. In that silence a plan was hatched, and by 4:15 we were at the Kachina Wetlands with our dog, Teva, walking down muddy paths as a cold wind whirled around us. We figured a fallen branch, not too small, not too big, would do the trick. It was slim pickings. None of the branches were symmetrical, many misshapen, but after 20 minutes or so we came upon a possibility. Laying on the ground was a pine branch, about 3-feet long, curving off to the right like a large comma. We only had 50 minutes before Maya returned from work, so we rushed home with our branch. Uri found a pot and filled it with soil. Placing it on the dining room table, we secured the lopsided branch. Then the decorating began. I grabbed construction paper and quickly began making small colorful chains. Uri found some tiny white lights powered by sunlight on the back porch and strung them across the branch. Attaching yarn to cookie cutters, I hung them here and there. “We need a white sheet!” Uri ran to find one that he folded and wrapped around the base of the branch — that would double as snow. Twenty minutes left and I grabbed some of Maya’s decorative objects from her room; a small vase she had made in a ceramics class, a pencil holder, a tiny wicker basket. I wrapped her “gifts” and placed them around the base of the branch.

Ten minutes left and I reached for my phone, scrolling down you tube to find the appropriate Christmas song. At 5:05 the lights went off, “All I Want for Christmas!” sang out at full volume, the branch sparkling to the music as Maya walked into the room.

Maya’s eyes lit up when she walked through the door. I don’t think there is anybody looking at a Christmas tree who was more mesmerized than she was that night. Taking in our twinkling Christmas branch, opening her very familiar “gifts” she laughed until she cried. Uri and I were quite pleased with ourselves. We had our first family Christmas. For us, anyway.

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