I have been very proud of myself for the past couple of years. After I let one Christmas slip by undecorated in the wake of my divorce, I have been very good about bringing out my decorations in time for the holidays. Each year that passes sees me decorating a little bit more, and I was particularly proud of myself this year, because I even bought a string of lights and a little wreath for my front door.
I was so proud of myself, in fact, that I brought up the subject to a friend of mine last week. I went through my spiel about feeling like the state of my home should reflect the state of my mind, and I think I expected her to be very impressed by my initiative.
Instead, she cocked her head and said, "Do you have a Christmas tree this year?"
"A Christmas tree? Well... uh... no."
"I don't know. I guess I haven't had a Christmas tree since I left Colorado. Think it must have gone into his pile when we split up our things."
"You haven't had a Christmas tree since Colorado?"
"Don't you like Christmas trees?"
"I love them."
"Then, why don't you have one?"
Inexplicably, I felt tears rising in my eyes. The answer instantly appeared in my subconscious, and I couldn't believe what it said: I don't deserve a Christmas tree.
I started stammering. "I mean... I guess I just think about families and babies when I think about Christmas trees. Like, you really have to have your life together in order to have a Christmas tree, you know?"
"You don't have your life together?"
"I mean, I do. I guess. But Christmas trees are for people whose lives are complete, you know? People who have everything figured out. People with husbands or boyfriends or children to help them decorate it. I don't have any of those things."
The words sounded ridiculous, but I couldn't help the sweep of sadness that overwhelmed me at the realization that I meant them. I honestly didn't think I deserved a Christmas tree now that I was single again. Some part of me thought I still needed to be punished for failing.
My friend said I should get a Christmas tree this year anyway, just to see how it felt. A few days later, I decided to take her up on her suggestion, so I drove to Target and found a fake, three-foot spruce tree. It was $27 and pre-lit, the smallest tree you could possibly buy that didn't have to sit on a tabletop.
But honestly, I couldn't stop my hands from shaking when I pulled that little tree from its rack. My heart was racing, too, and I felt like everyone in the store was just seconds away from realizing I was a fraud and telling me I needed to leave.
Who was I to barge in here and think I deserved a Christmas tree? I was just a struggling, 32 year-old author and divorcee who currently shared a 700 square-foot duplex with her dog.
But a funny thing happened when I placed that Christmas tree in my cart. No alarms sounded, and no one came running from the storeroom to snatch it away from me. Not a single person seemed to think I was doing anything inappropriate, and one employee even came over to ask me if I needed any help with the tree.
I didn't. Bolstered by this realization, I took a swing through the decoration aisle and grabbed a little star to top it, then I paid and drove home. I pulled out the ornaments I had been storing in my garage, and I sat on the ground and started decorating my Christmas tree.
It didn't take long. It was only three feet tall, after all. But I lit a spruce-scented candle and turned on one of the Pandora holiday stations while I decorated, and I explained the tree's significance to my dog when she came over for her first sniff.
Then, I sat back and took my first look at my brand-new Christmas tree.
It wasn't the biggest or most elaborate tree I had ever seen. It was short and stubby, with lights in too-perfect rows and a squatty, little top that made it hard to put on my star. It didn't look as real as some of the other trees I had seen, and I had trouble putting on one of the legs when I first got it out of the box.
But it was still green and cheery, and it looked adorable wrapped in the little plaid blanket I found for it in my closet. It stood in a perfect spot beside my bookshelf, and the light it cast in my bedroom was dreamy and merry and calming.
It was my tree. And I loved it.
It was perfectly imperfect, but it was complete.
Just like me.