Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

December 20, 2013

The beloved Christmas tree

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — The Christmas tree is the centerpiece of most homes at Christmas time. Bejeweled with twinkling lights, adorned with ornaments and encircled in enticingly wrapped gifts, the humble evergreen is a beloved holiday tradition.

The ritual of trimming a tree for my home each year seems to bind that season to those of the past, carrying the narrative of celebration through time and place. Each is different but each instills the same sense of magic and wonder.

This year our tree is a fragrant Frasier Fir, illuminated by colorful lights and embellished with a range of decorations collected over the years. The tree catches my eye each time I pass, beckoning me to admire it and spend a few moments indulging in the hope of the Christmas to come and the memories of those who have passed.

I am drawn often to touch the items that have been carefully hung from its boughs. Each represents a piece of my life or my husband Carl’s. They are tangible tributes to the intertwinement of our lives and families. They remind me of the promise of enduring love we have made to one another and the joy of sharing the celebration each year of our Savior’s birth.

Among the most noticeable of items are the dozens of angel ornaments that grace the tree. Each is different and each one was gift to me from my mother or grandmother, an annual tradition they began with my first Christmas and continue. Each of my four sisters receives a matching angel every year, too. Now grown and far from home, when I look upon the angels I am swept back to those childhood Christmas mornings I shared with my siblings. The angels remind me of the blessing my family has always been and continues to be. I feel closeness to them and a sense of comfort just knowing many of the same angels are hanging on their trees at Christmas too.

There is also a brigade of vigilant fire fighters and apparatuses hanging our tree. Also gifts from family and friends, the ornaments were meant to celebrate my husband and those who share his profession.

This year, the tiny red engines and glass firefighters in bunker gear are a vivid reminder of the sacrifices all firefighters and their families make. This year, Carl won’t be home for Christmas; instead he will spend the days away from his family protecting the lives and property of our community instead.

Another bittersweet trinket has caught my eye and lurched my heart more than once this season: a ceramic dog bone bearing the name of our late pet, Zeke.

The charm once hung from the mantel on his stocking, which was always stuffed with wrapped treats. One of the greatest joys of Christmas morning was watching Zeke, tail furiously wagging, as he ripped the wrapping paper from a bone.

This will be our first Christmas without him, although I know he will be here in spirit — I can already feel his presence. Each time I look at my tree and spot the tiny bone, I remember his enduring love.

With Christmas now just days away, I am looking forward to placing new editions on the tree. In time I know the ornaments added from this year will come to hold meaning I can’t yet understand. Just like those of years past, they will find renewed life each year as part of our Christmas tree.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at carriestambaugh@gmail.com