In Christmas, 1981, I was a young and newly married graduate student living in Tallahassee, Florida. My apartment was typical nouveau-student; shelves of cinder blocks and plywood, a saggy bed, yellow and green plaid carpeting. The most expensive thing in the apartment was my tennis racket. As you can imagine, fire and theft insurance was rather pointless. And of course, there were always plenty of cockroaches to keep us company.
That Christmas seemed difficult at the time. It was our first one away from home and we felt isolated. We had very little money but saved $15 to buy a small four-foot tree (a real one, of course). We made decorations with toilet paper rolls and colored tissue.
For a crowning touch, I cut out a star from the box that our $69.95 twelve-inch black and white TV came in, and covered it with aluminum foil. Another small piece was fashioned into a cone so that the star could be fitted onto the tree and voila!
Last year, it was my son Tommy's turn in the rotation to place the star on our much bigger tree (still real, of course). Here he is two rotations ago in 2006.
It has come to represent our lives and all that has happened during the thirty-three years between those two Christmases; births and deaths of loved ones, graduation ceremonies, two mortgages and four adoptions.
That star has become a family icon. I'm fairly sure that if my house was on fire, the first thing I would try to save would be that star. Well, perhaps the family and pets would come before the star... but on some days, I'm not so sure!
My wife still cries when she takes that tattered star out of the box. It has come to represent our lives and all that has happened during the thirty-three years between those two Christmases; births and deaths of loved ones, graduation ceremonies, two mortgages, four adoptions, countless fits of laughter; one-third of a century of life!
The importance of symbols
It is difficult to know which moments will become important in the future. The act of cutting out that star seemed trivial at the time but it turned out to be the small beginning of something very big. I think of that star when I think of symbols and why they become so important to us. They serve as representations of our lives.
It is only by stepping back and contemplating those symbols that we can appreciate how far we've come, and what it took to get there. I now consider 1981 as my best Christmas. It is when the star was born.
With this in mind, I wish you all the warmest of holidays. Enjoy the moments. Some of them will still be with you in thirty-three years!