On Friday night, all six of us set up our fresh, fragrant Christmas tree in the living room. First, we hung the white lights, and then the ornaments one by one. I reminded the kids that they made the beaded candy canes in kindergarten (the program didn’t change much from year to year, which is how we ended up with four that are pretty much identical). They made jokes about the skinny young couple in a pewter photo ornament from 1994. S. confessed to licking all the icing off the gingerbread ornaments one year. She thought I hadn’t noticed.
We also remembered the year we agreed to dog-sit for my sister. We loved her dog, Sandy, and knew her well. She was a bull terrier mix, sturdy and strong with a goofy temperament. We were in Strathroy then, with only three children in a three-bedroom bungalow. Sandy arrived on the 24th and we were happy to have her with us while my sister’s family drove to her in-laws for the holiday.
Right away we knew that the holidays were not a great time to dog-sit. After excited hello’s all around, Sandy was drawn to our Christmas tree. Despite the fact that it was a longstanding tradition in our household, we realized it was probably not a great idea to have the tree decked out in candy canes, gingerbread cookies and strings of popcorn and cranberries. Sandy didn’t see a Christmas tree. She saw lunch.
We did our best to restrain and distract her, and that worked for a while. Soon enough, however, there was a loud crash from the living room. So much for the gingerbread.
After cleaning up the mess we decided that the safest thing to do, given the Christmas treats and packages all over the house, was to leave Sandy closed in one of the bedrooms while we went to the Christmas Eve service. This proved to be a good idea, in that it kept her from eating any more popcorn. Unfortunately, we came home only to discover that she had eaten most of the wall-to-wall carpet in her room. She was not a popular dog.
We laugh about it now. Sandy is long since gone, but we remember her fondly. She ended up being the reason we replaced the old, ugly carpet with fresh, new broadloom, after all.
That’s what happens, isn’t it? Special holidays often include disasters–a burnt turkey, a gift gone wrong, a snowstorm that prevents travelling–but over the years they become our fondest memories. Disaster can be transformed once we have some time and distance to give us a fresh perspective. I think God deserves some credit in softening our hearts along the way, too.
I kept that in mind this year after we had put up our pretty little tree. We sat admiring it, feeling smug after all of our arranging and re-arranging of ornaments. Twenty minutes later, it crashed to the floor, face-first into the carpet, spilling two litres of water from the (supposedly) sturdy base. The gingerbread was soggy, several ornaments lay in pieces and the lights were tangled and lopsided. There was, I admit, a fair bit of cursing.
By next year, however, I am confident there will mostly be laughter. Remember when….? we will say to each other. We will smile at the ornament with the chip missing from the top. We will be thankful for un-soggy gingerbread. We will make fun of P.’s colourful vocabulary. We will be extra careful as we put up the tree.
As you prepare for the holiday season this year, I hope that your past disasters are far enough behind you that they have become fond memories. And this year, should you endure a Christmas catastrophe, may it be the mild kind that produces minimal damage and no serious injuries. Most of all–may all of your blunders, missteps and accidents be transformed into stories rich with laughter, love and well-earned wisdom.