The rectangular brown box, aged and water-stained. Soft, saggy, torn at the corners. Tattered brown string holding it together, keeping the lid in place. That musty perfume of Christmas stored away for the past eleven months that fills the air when the lid is finally removed.
The original purchase order although dirty and faded is still glued on the top right corner. Your name, your previous married name, Scoullar, is still legible and so is the date. December 1968.
Inside the box, the fake plastic Christmas tree. Dark brown plastic branches with dark green moulded leafy twigs fading to lighter green at the ends. They don’t make them like this anymore. These days dark green stiff, prickly tinsel replaces the once carefully moulded branches and twigs that made it look like a real tree.
The branches are tied together in order of size, held together with more faded string. Dozens of green twigs fallen off their stems, scattered in between the piles of branches and on the bottom of the box. Each branch has to be examined one by one and the fallen twigs matched to barren stems once again.
The tree is fake but to me it is real Christmas. You bought this. This tree is you.
A red box holds ancient Christmas character decorations. An ornamental nativity within a pyramid. Gold, green, blue, red, silver. They used to be evenly coated in gold and silver glitter but now most of it has fallen away and disappeared with time. One day, the last of it will probably fall away too. Empty matchbox presents wrapped in coloured cellophane. Red, blue, yellow, green. Tied with a skinny bow of silver or gold tinsel. Felt Santas and little drumming men. Angels made of wire and pale coloured chiffon mainly white or soft blue.
In another rectangular box with a cracked clear plastic lid, decorative balls. Coloured cotton spun around polystyrene balls. Red, turquoise, grass green, bright blue, pale blue, white, bright and pale pink. On some, plain cotton thread replaces the original metallic tie, now missing, so that they can still hang on the tree.
The decorations are old, breaking, falling apart and need replacing but they don’t make them like this anymore. Now they are all modern, sleek, perfect.
You bought all of these. These are you in Christmas. You can’t be discarded or replaced.
Soft fluffy strands of tinsel are stuffed in a plastic bag. They are flecked with gold and silver and falling apart too. So many fell apart and broke that I had to buy some new ones so we could still cover the tree thickly in tinsel, but they aren’t the same. They are skinny and prickly, bright blue, pink, green, gold and silver.
You were still alive then.
Our chiffon dressed angel that sits on the top of the tree fell apart too. I couldn’t save her so I bought a a new one. Still an angel, not a star because you chose an angel. We always had an angel.
Now you are the angel.
The tree was already up that year. We started Christmas like we always did by digging out the boxes and putting the tree up on the first weekend of December. The tree stood quietly, sometimes ignored as we walked past but always there, just being Christmas.
Then you started sleeping. A lot. And the week before Christmas, your body, tired of this world, allowed your spirit to quietly slip into a new pain-free realm. Just like that, with one last breath, you were gone.
That Christmas, we sat by the tree. Papa, my brother and his girlfriend, my father and me. Numb and grieving. Your sick bed, near-by, now empty. We sat sombrely. We tried to smile but our broken hearts were full of sadness. Christmas felt empty. It felt like Christmas had died. Christmas as I knew it did die.
And the tree just stood there, carrying invisible pieces of you.