Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

the author's

the author’s

This is a relatively undecorated tree, at least at my house. All it’s wearing is the equivalent of good foundation garments, in girl-speak: a zillion lights (2100, to be exact!), a spire, and crystal garland. And all last night I looked at it, bemused by its beauty.

The holidays are like that, I think. We forget that the ‘bare bones’ are beautiful enough, and we add things that too often aren’t even fun. Here you have a tree w/out the usual ornaments. Sans presents, as well. Just a wrinkled (but clean!) tree skirt, and the essentials. You can’t hear the holiday music in the background, ranging from Wynton Marsalis to Frank Sinatra to BareNaked Ladies to Celtic fiddle to… You get my point.

Today I’ll add ornaments, each unwrapping a small foray into my family history, beginning with the styrofoam bell my mother & I carefully decorated w/ sequins, when I was 4 or 5. There will be the few remaining glittered glass bells that my husband’s aunt gave me when I set up my first tree. Next will be the hand-painted 12 Days of Christmas wooden ornaments that both my sister & I have, from when we lived next-door to each other in a duplex across the street from my grandmother & great-aunt.

There will be the tissue-wreathed picture of my younger son, at age 6. The ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ornaments from each son’s first year. Several handmade ornaments from holiday bazaars in Saudi Arabia, where ornaments were forbidden to be sold on the open market: a needlework copy of the trailer we moved into when we first arrived, two hand-carved wooden sleighs w/ my sons’ names on them, a framed needlework unicorn hanging from a red ribbon. There is also one baby shoe from a set both sons wore, and things they made in Scouts and at school.
All of this is by way of saying that our tree is, in the most tangible of ways, a family tree. For me, as a non-Christian, this is what the holiday is all about: my wonderful family, and the ties that connect. It’s also about giving, and selfless love. It’s about Bodhi Day — the possibility that we too, like the Buddha, can ‘awaken’ to our true nature — Buddha nature. It’s not about divinity, and it’s not about one belief system trumping another.

via google

via google

Today I read an analogy about religions: the five major religions (Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, & Judaism) are like the fingers & thumb of a hand. Where they meet is in the mystery that is the palm – -what connects us all. I so love that image; it works for me! Each finger separate, but joined to a foundation of certain values: love, charity, good works.

My tree is a reflection of my values, I guess. The primacy of my family is evident (especially after I wrap their presents!). We’re a large family, by many standards, and we keep in touch. The holiday celebration will have more than 20 of us gathered from all over the country, and we’ll still be missing a few. We have Buddhists, Christians, Wiccans, atheists. Vegans and gluten-free and mostly-meat eaters. Gay & straight, multi-degreed and no HS diploma. Very separate fingers, but a strong connection to each other, and our shared histories.

So today, as I unwrap the crystal ornaments my beloved & I bought before my sons were born, as I hang the tiny red glass berries that remind me of our summers at the lake w/ my adored mother- and father-in-law, I will remember: I am part of a whole. Not simply the small hand of our family, but the infinitely larger one of the human family. How very comforting that is. And a kind of small enlightenment, as well.

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