A Christmas Ritual

I hate decorating for Christmas.

I have decided this is a fact that is true about me. I’m a husband, a father, a surfer, and I do not like decorating for Christmas. Not at all. Hatred might be an appropriate word, and when I do it with a good attitude, it’s evidence that God is doing a good work in my heart. This is evidence of his presence in my life, I assure you.

We have a tree that we’ve been setting up for more than twenty years. Every year, we bring it out of the attic, and we set it up again. People ask, “Do you have a fake tree?” No, I have a real tree. It’s artificial, but it is real. It is not imaginary. It is a real, artificial tree.

I wish I could show you the box that holds our Christmas tree. It’s beat up, damaged, and wrapped in duct tape. I think it is actually the duct tape that holds it together. Rather than ever getting a new box, I just keep taping this one together, year after year. Every year I cut it open, take the tree out, put it up, wrestle with it, and let it live in my house for the season. Then I take it back down, I put it in the box, and I put some tape around the box to close it up again. As I write this, there are now twenty-four layers of duct tape on this box.

I used to gripe about it. Now I have this kind of ritual. This tree is usually the last thing I take down. I stand and look at the tree; the lights and ornaments are removed, and it now stands in its undecorated state. I pull the box out and carefully fold the flaps back. Duct tape ribbons roll off and stick to everything. There is the standard gray. But then there is an array of colors. Each stripe of tape marks the close of a season. I stop and look at all the lines. Each line carries with it a season that has become a part of our story; it has become a part of this moment.

Some of those years were so hard I wasn’t sure how we’d make it. Other years were so full I didn’t want them to end. But whether it was good or bad, full or just full of stress, each one got a stripe of duct tape. And each one mattered to what has become of us.

And so after twenty-four years, there’s a little pause, call it a conclusion. The memories are sweet, and part of me longs to return. But a beautiful hope pulls me ahead. And so, in that moment, I pack the tree into the box and grab the duct tape and begin strapping it shut. It is finished, and it is packed away, usable for the next season.

The same is true for that ongoing thing from your past that needs to find a conclusion: it is finished. And now it becomes usable. The season is now absorbed into the story.

You may need to take a strip of tape, a stripe of color, pick a point, and draw a line. You don’t declare it finished to declare it over but rather to trust that it mattered.

Finished things are usable things.

Note: This is an excerpt from my book, To Be Concluded.