With two teenage boys, my husband and I took a church in a small town several hundred miles away from where we had been living for many years. He would be attending seminary and would pastor the church. All was strange, new, and the pocketbook a little on the lean side. We had left some items in storage because we could not move them and hoped to be able to return for them. They included a tree, ornaments, and some 'extras' we felt were so important to make Christmas real. As the holiday approached though, unexpected expenses made it impossible to retrieve the items in storage before Christmas. In a feeble attempt to keep up the spirit of Christmas, we decorated a large green philodendron in a wicker pot given as a house warming gift by a family in the church.
Tiny gold bulbs and small colored lights flickered on the plant. We laughed as we sang, "Oh, Philodendron" and our version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Plant". We piled our modest gifts around its base telling each other we were discovering the real Christmas. We created a new tradition of a Christmas eve party after the Christmas Eve Communion Service. The small treats, special breads, and candies given as gifts from co-workers, church people, and employers, we had saved and spread them out for our party. We played games, watched Christmas movies, and had fun - despite the lack of a tree. The gifts were simple and meager but the food was good and the feeling festive.
Sometimes circumstances make it hard to bring the dream up to the level of reality. Money gets short, stresses sap a joyful attitude, and disappointment is the norm; hope may be a mere memory. Attempts to substitute plants for a tree brimming with memories of good times and abundance fall far short.
So what do we do? Do we give in and say "I cannot do this or this because I [have no money, have no job, have no hope, have no joy, have no love, just fill in the blanks]?"
The following Christmas was much different - normalcy was restored - the Earth no longer tilted out of balance. We looked at the green plant as we decorated a traditional tree. But - we kept the family party because what we learned was it was the family that was important and while we were laughing, eating, playing games, and watching funny old movies - we never looked at that Christmas philodendron a single time.
It was the people and not the tree that made Christmas what it needed to be for everyone.