One of the many fun things I did as a kid at Christmas was to join other kids in building a Christmas hut with palm branches. Since we were at liberty to design our hut the way we wanted, we were very creative in what we built. The fun part is that since it didn’t take much effort to build this, we could construct one, pull it down, redesign, and rebuild. We could have a hut with just one room, or one with multiple rooms. The main purpose for building our Christmas hut was to create a space for ourselves - a place where, as kids, we can gather in community to enjoy the blessings of Christmas. Looking back, I realize that, unconsciously, we were expressing all that was at the heart of Christmas - community.
I knew about Christmas trees - but they were all artificial. I don’t remember having a Christmas tree in my house, and so I didn’t know its purpose. It wasn’t until I relocated to the United States that I finally saw a Christmas tree that wasn’t artificial. When I came to know about the Christmas tree, I learned that we are supposed to put gifts at the bottom of it. The gifts at the base of each Christmas tree tells a much bigger story about the love that holds a community together. Yes, we may not agree all the time - we may even dislike each other - but we go out of our way to deliver a piece of ourselves at the bottom of the Christmas tree. Our acts unconsciously reinforce the idea at the heart of Christmas - community.
Like many of you, we buy a Christmas tree each year but because I have some affinity for fresh trees over artificial ones, we do tend to get the former. This year, however, we had our oldest daughter choose the Christmas tree... and guess what? She chose an artificial tree. As beautiful as the tree is, it still isn’t like the fresh ones that I have gotten in the past at a Christmas tree lot. Central to what we do at Christmas is the tree, but its mostly the fact that the base of the tree holds together our expressions of love. Often times it isn’t even the gifts themselves that matter, but rather the thought behind each gift at the bottom of the tree.
You only have to drive to the Columbia Mall to experience the organized chaos during this time of year. Why? Because it’s the holidays, and for that reason many of us are there buying the gifts we will deposit at the bottom of the Christmas tree. But guess what? Just as the malls are filled with people, so is the Christmas tree lot packed with Christmas trees - small, medium, and large. Before and after Christmas, the mall maintains at least some reasonable traffic, but the Christmas tree lot is completely emptied until the following year.
This brings me to Rikk Dunlap, whose story the Christmas Tree Lot has been turned into a Hallmark movie Christmas Under The Stars. Rikk, who had battled with substance abuse, has always had a passion to write. "The pencil is his savior" he has said. Rikk tells a story of passing by a Christmas lot twice a day. Each year in November, the lot comes back to life. The sight of the trailer, tent, and trees was always his introduction to the Christmas season. He was always fascinated about this yearly occurrence, and he always thought to himself that he would write a story about that. Even though he didn’t know what he was going to write, he found time to write his story when he lost his job of thirty seven years.
The story begins with an investment broker, Nick, who squanders some money and loses his job because of it. He happens to meet Clem, the old man who runs the Christmas tree lot. The two characters are polar opposites; Clem is a humble, wise, old man and Nick is a cocky, know-it-all kind of guy. Clem offers Nick a job at the Christmas tree lot. Working with Clem, Nick learns as much about people -- their dreams, their struggles, their imperfections-- as he does about himself, who he is, and what he wants to do with his life. Through his experience working for Clem, Nick is able to make connections with people who’ve been missing in his life - that was his gift under the Christmas tree he sold.
There is no doubt that Christmas can be a dreary time, especially if you are alone, have no family, lost loved ones, or are estranged from them. But know this - insofar as the Christmas tree lot doesn’t stay open all year round, so would all the seasons in your life - no situation in your life would last forever. For that reason, as difficult as it may sound, we should always endeavor to find the tree under which we may leave our gifts - gifts that tell of the sacred human abundance and not of any limitation under which we find ourselves. For at the heart of Christmas is community.
The exciting Christmas tree can be freshly cut or artificial, but there’s always a gift neatly wrapped for you at the bottom.
Merry Christmas, my beloved.