I undecorated the Christmas tree this week and packed away the lights, garlands and stockings. The nativity was carefully wrapped again and placed in a box marked ‘fragile.’ Undecorating Christmas is a quiet activity. Unlike the event of decorating, when the entire family drinks hot cocoa, listens to Christmas music, and helps decorate the tree. I do the undecorating alone. I know the routine of what goes in what box, and like to wrap certain ornaments in specific tissues and bubble paper to protect them until next year.
It was the usual undecorating chore until I held the newest addition to our family tree, a handmade craft created by our youngest son last year at the annual Cub Scout ornament decorating event. The ornament I removed from the tree was a cinnamon scented pine cone, with green glitter glue dripping from its tips, hanging from a shiny green cord. I drew it closer to my face. It still had the faint smell of cinnamon clinging to it, an earthy, warm, strong sweetness mixed with evergeen muskiness. It still sparkled.
My memory rewound to the day the cinnamon pinecone came into our home last December. When little boys decorate Christmas ornaments, it’s crazy good fun. Fifty little boys running from craft table to craft table in packs, asking their dads to hold their latest creation while they begin another. Traditionally, the favorite table was Mark’s cinnamon pinecone ornament table. The smell, the glue, the glitter, what’s not to like? Mark has three boys, so as long as I can remember, Mark’s pinecone table has been part of the evening’s fun.
And after an exhausting whirlwind of trying to keep up with my son’s decorating fun, I helped Mark clean up his table. We bantered about how much fun the boys had, and were pleased with a successful event. I crawled under the table and swept up the last of the glitter, wondering if more glitter was on the ornaments, in the boys’ hair, stuck to their scout shirts, or the floor instead. That’s OK, it’s not a party until somebody spills something. And our family enjoyed the new addition to the family tree last year.
This December, the pinecone came out of its paper lunch bag again, and graced the family tree. This December it still smelled of cinnamon and evergreen. This December it reminded us of Mark, who is not with us anymore. Mark didn’t set up his traditionally favorite table at the ornament decorating party. Mark didn’t make the room smell like cinnamon, no glue dripped, no glitter fluttered to the floor to sweep up into sparkly drifts in dustpans.
I find it halting, surprising, achingly beautiful, these unexpected things that stop me. That remind me. I’m thankful, despite it being hard. Remembering the moments that cannot be repeated, seldom are rehearsed or even counted as consequence at the time, but are sweet nonetheless. It’s always the little things, isn’t it?
Musical pairing: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Christina Aguilera version, 1999.