Christmas can be a magical time of year. I love the energy of love, peace, and hope that fills the air. The lights and colors are requisite to creating whimsy and spectacle. I embrace the childlike wonder of elves, fairies, angels, and Santa Claus.
My home is usually overflowing in a kaleidoscope of ornaments, figurines of treasured memories, lights draped across the fireplace and doorways. A real Douglas fir Christmas tree is picked out with specific dimensions. It must be at least six feet tall with full branches and the perfect A-frame shape, with needles curled at the proper angles to hold all the tree trimmings.
It was Christmas of 2003. I was dating my then-boyfriend, who eventually became my husband. I was beginning to imagine the possibility of him as a part of my life, but I was also aware he came from a very conservative English family. Even though I was born in England, I am outspoken and nontraditional. I wasn’t sure they were going to accept me as a multiracial and independent American woman.
That year, I would be visiting my boyfriend, someone I cared about deeply, and his large family in the U.K. His family saw Christmas as a religious holy day, a time of prayer and thanksgiving. They didn’t decorate the house or have Christmas trees. I was filled with anxiety at the prospect of Christmas as a somber holiday.
When he picked me up at Heathrow Airport, there was an air of anticipation in his bouncing steps. He wanted our first Christmas together to be special. When we arrived at his house, I was shocked to find there was a very decorated Christmas tree waiting for me. He knew how much a Christmas tree meant to me and didn’t want me to miss out.
I burst out laughing. He was so proud of his creation, but it was the ugliest tree I had ever seen.
The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree
It was an artificial tree made of metallic silver leaves and branches, about five feet tall and scraggly. Listing to one side, it was decorated with several different-colored light sets that didn’t match. The best word to describe it was garish. The best five words: a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. At first, I felt sad just looking at the monstrosity.
Then Graham told me the story of how he had persuaded friends and family members to donate decorations for the tree. Later, the family came over and told me stories of his determination to make sure I had a Christmas tree. Each time they teased him and regaled us with his journey of creating the Christmas tree, I fell deeper in love with him.
I also realized that his family never had seen him go to such lengths for someone. There was something wonderful about his family supporting him on his Christmas tree pilgrimage, even if they thought it was strange. His family’s teasing didn’t bother him. He cared more about making our first Christmas together magical.
I came to love that pitiful tree. It no longer looked ugly to me. You see, my first impression was that he didn’t care enough about me to get a nice tree. I came to realize that he loved me more than enough. He roped in family and friends to help him make our first Christmas together special—as a family.
This article first appeared in The Sweetest Christmas: Advent 2023 booklet from Unity.