A Brief and Personal History of Trees

By Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn 

A tiny pair of ceramic clogs from Amsterdam.

Five different ballerinas decked out in tutus and pointe shoes.

Thick clay angels with rosy cheeks.

American Girl doll Kit Kittredge, decked out in her flour sack birthday dress and missing a hand from the one year the Christmas tree fell over.

My family isn’t particularly religious but like a lot of American families, we celebrate Christmas yearly, if only to gather together and celebrate each other. For every year I can remember, decorating the tree was a heavily ceremonial way to usher in the holiday season.

When my Dad was young, he and his brothers planted pine trees on an empty plot of land my grandparents owned. The planting wasn’t executed very well and only a third of the trees survived to adulthood. The ones that did make it often graced our living room with their presence.

There was one year that Dad would load my brother and I on a toboggan and drag us out to the farm, brandishing a hacksaw in a blizzard to cut a tree down.

Each year on the night we would get our tree, my brother and I would haul out the boxes and lay out each ornament on the pool table, as if we were gearing up for an appraisal and subsequent auction of each item.

We would fight over the Christmas music we would play (I would always find a way to work the Mariah Carey album in there, if only for nostalgic reasons, and the Nat King Cole version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which was, and remains, my personal favorite), and we would go about finding the sturdy branches for our favorites, high enough that the dog couldn’t reach.

This year will be my first Christmas in a house I don’t consider my childhood home. Wanting a fresh start, my mother has chosen an animal theme for the tree, meaning there will be plenty of penguins, squirrels, and lambs, but no ballerinas and certainly nothing that says my name.

I get it; I really do.

But it’s hard not to feel alienated from a home that already isn’t my home because I don’t see myself in it when I’m there. My room doesn’t look like a room for me even if I recognize my dresser. I’m at this weird in-between stage of my life where I’ve grown up and forsaken childhood but I’m not established enough to have my own Christmas tree, decked out with snowmen that say “Jaclyn 1995, Love Grammy & Poppy.”

I found myself tearing up in Target a couple of days ago because I couldn’t find a candle that smelled enough like the pine trees I remembered. When I told my Mom about it, she sent my Dad out to cut me down my own tiny Christmas tree. I’m grateful but I can’t help but keep thinking that it’s not really the same.

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn

Courtesy of Jaclyn Jermyn