Forty four years ago, there was a young couple. They had just gotten married in September, so they were celebrating their first Christmas as a married couple.
They did not have much money. He was in graduate school, she was working as a secretary (they still used that word back then) to support them both while he finished his schooling. Actually, they had no money.
Money was very tight, so she would need to work over the holidays and they would not be able to go home to their families for Christmas.
The wife was having a hard time with the idea of not being with her parents and sisters for Christmas. She was just 23 and this would be her first Christmas away from home. She was pregnant with their first child already.
Her husband told her that they would not be able to afford to have a Christmas tree, so that made it a little sad. She cried when he told her. It didn’t really feel like a holiday at all.
It was cold as she walked home from work, a little sad at the thought of no tree, no family and no decorations.
When she got home, instead of an empty apartment, she found a Christmas tree, fully decorated, set up by her new husband to surprise her.
She cried when she saw it.
He got the tree. A real tree. He went to Woolworth’s and bought the ornaments and lights. He probably broke the budget buying that 88¢ (!) box of 12 ornaments. He dragged the tree home, used their only knife (ruining it) to trim the stump to fit into the stand. He spent the afternoon decorating the tree before her return home.
It is probably the most romantic thing I have ever heard of my father doing. It is just such a grand gesture, completely out of character and so sweet.
It is my favorite Christmas story. I think of it every year when we get the ornaments out and start to decorate the tree. I like to imagine them that way, young and broke and making do with what they had. I like to think about how hard they have worked, everything they have accomplished together.
A few of the ornaments have survived all of our moves, all of our Christmases, all of our pets, all the hospitalizations, illnesses…everything. It says so much about their marriage, their commitment to each other and their children and now grandchildren. There are a few cracks, but it’s still here.