O’ Christmas Tree

He was sitting on the piano bench staring at the Christmas tree. Tears were running down his cheeks and his shoulders shook silently with the emotion. The lights in the room were dim and the colored bulbs on the tree radiated a rainbow of colors onto his white hair. I was in awe at the beauty of the lights and confused by the sight of my grandfather crying. I was ten-years-old. I loved Christmas. I adored by grandfather.

“Grandpa, why are you crying,” I asked in a small voice. I scooched up next to him on the piano bench and laid my head on his shoulder. My long blonde hair tumbled down his back. He wrapped a strong arm around my shoulders and remained silent for a long time. My feet were swinging slowly beneath the bench.

“I can’t see the tree anymore,” he finally whispered. “All the colored lights look blurry and I can’t make out the tree.”

I starred at the tree admiring the perfection. Our family had picked it out together when we went to Santa’s Village. We drove home singing Christmas carols in the car and drank hot chocolate as we decorated it with all the special ornaments. I smiled as I remembered my grandmother patiently hanging tinsel one strand at a time over the branches. You could see where my sister, brother and I had put tinsel. It hung in messy clumps as it threatened to drop to the floor below.

I don’t know why, but I started describing each ornament on the tree. My grandfather listened intently as I told him how the little yellow whirly one was twirling madly as the heat rose from the red bulb placed below it. His deep, rich laugh echoed in the room when I told him it looked like a mini-helicopter that could fly the tree right out of the room.

We watched the tree quietly. Me seeing the details that my young eyes allowed and my grandfather seeing only blurs of color. Softly singing, my grandfather’s pure tenor voice intoned the German words to O’Tannebaum. As the tears pooled in my eyes, the lights on the tree blurred into beautiful rays of color. “It’s beautiful, grandpa.”

Dr. Patricia Bay
Patricia Leigh Bay, Psy.D. is a licensed Marriage, Family Therapist with a private practice in Redding, California. Since 1979 she has loved working with children, adolescents, adults, families and relationships.
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7 Responses

  1. Patricia Bay says:

    Healthy families have traditions. They can be unique to your family and they can evolve over time. Traditions help to create a firm foundation in which your family bonds, joins and forms the intimacy that helps keeps families strong and together.

    When a new person comes into the family, being asked to join into the family traditions is an honor. Accepting and cherishing that honor is a sign of respect. Creating a space for that new person strengthens your family as it grows and changes. Whether it is a place at the Thanksgiving table, a special birthday cake or entering into your family’s Christmas traditions, making room for change is a sign of a healthy family.

    Take a look at your family traditions. Notice how much comfort you find in the little things that you have all done time after time. In times of loss, grief and change, your traditions will give strong foundations to continue forward.

    I wish all my friends and family a Happy Holiday season, whatever your traditions might be.

  2. Rev.Christopher Whedon says:

    Christmas is my favorite time of year and one reason for this is the family stories that come out. So many traditions people have are interesting to read about as well as help me remember our own (wife and self)
    This is a very touching story and was a treat to read.Thanks Patricia for the treat! May you too have a Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year!

  3. Beverly Stafford says:

    I thought of my dear Grandmother as I read your piece. She was a can-do woman who was always busy at something: cooking, doing needle work, playing bridge, keeping us kids in line. When her eyesight dimmed and she could no longer see to the things she had always enjoyed, her life was over, and she just gave up. I’ve often thought that if cataract surgery had been available all those years ago, she would have continued being the Nana we loved for a much longer time.

  4. Sue K says:

    Thank you, Patricia, for sharing your experience with your Grandfather and your comment.
    Blessings to all of us — to the whole world!

  5. Patricia Bay says:

    All of your comments touch my heart, as well. Thank you!

  6. AJ says:

    So many precious memories from this holiday live in my heart…… almost all of them have to do with Christmas performances. Surprise surprise surprise! Since my mother was the high school choir director as well as the church choir director (my dad sang bass in the church choir) I cannot remember a time when music was not part of this Holiday! I NEVER tire of holiday music, it brings me to my family roots.

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