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Mission City Voices: My Christmas Tree of Life

The word “magical” generally makes those of us on cliché patrol reach reflexively for the red pen. Especially when used in close proximity with “Christmas.”

But clichés are “clichés” for a reason. Their genesis is in the universality of certain human experiences.

And one of those experiences is the winter solstice, when dark comes close to devouring light. This works so profoundly on our human consciousness that every culture has special myth and ritual to mark the darkest days of the year and light-filled celebrations for the time when days begin to lengthen.


We celebrate the seeming magic of light coming from darkness, of new beginning coming from nothingness. When my son Will was born I felt the same sense of marvel. Here was life where there had been none, three where there had been only two.

Part of Christmas’ magic is the Christmas Tree. Charles Dickens called it the Tree of Life on which are hung the ornaments of life lived and hopes yet to be born. Because life is an uncharted geography, my Christmas Tree has a random and unpredictable look, excessive and unbalanced.

Intricately painted Native American pottery ornaments from a trip to New Mexico we took in 1999. An icon of the Virgin from an upstate New York Ukrainian festival I visited in college. Ornaments of cardboard and poster paint Will made in elementary school. An ornament purchased at the Phoenix airport during a recent un-planned eight-hour layover.

Dancing nutcracker princes from a Nutcracker performance recall the wonderful dessert we had afterwards at the old Fairmont Fountain Restaurant—a Chocolate Dream, with chocolate ice cream on a brownie floating in a pond of hot fudge, blanketed with chocolate mousse, and topped with a chocolate covered cherry.

A new chapter begins in 2010 when my daughter-in-law Vicky came into our lives—a delicate pink glass sand dollar from our visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that summer.

There are now many ornaments from visits to Pittsburgh, where Will and Vicky live. A ketchup bottle from the Heinz History Museum. A painted Polish Easter Egg reflecting Western Pennsylvania’s Eastern European connections. A beaded bird from the Pittsburgh Zoo.

They were married two Christmases ago and a Christmas wedding weaves another special magic. A wedding is the birth of a new family—a family that has been coming to be, and is now born and ready to greet the world.

In 2015 the brightest star on that Christmas Tree of life lived was Will and Vicky’s wedding. That day they started their own tree—one that will grow in its own special way, and be ornamented with new adventures, new hopes, new achievements, and new blessings.                                                                                                     

Two years ago we arrived at a Christmas wedding as two families. And like the Wise Men of the Christmas story, we went home another way—as one family.

This year we’ll celebrate the second anniversary of this new family. And we’ll share a traditional Slovak candlelight Christmas Eve dinner that doesn’t begin until the first star is sighted in the night sky—the newest ornament on our Christmas Tree of life.

Do you have a personal essay that you’d like to submit for consideration? Send them to subject line: Mission City Voices.


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