Angels Askew

As I looked at our freshly liberated Christmas tree in its brilliant, slightly scrunched glory, I couldn’t help remembering the long-familiar tale.

“And Lo, the angel of the Lord did look down from the heavens and said unto them … ‘Ouch! Should I not be two inches to the right?’”

Or maybe that’s just us.

You see, in most respects, our tree is pretty traditional. There are the thousand-and-one colored lights on every branch, carefully obscuring the burned-out strands that were built into the tree itself. There’s the 40 years of ornaments that invade every square inch, looking like the Ghost of Christmas Past got mugged in a yard sale. The cute and the memorable merge with the odd and bizarre (“Is that Holly Hobbie’s head?”), all of it arranged so that the wagging tail of Big Blake, the World’s Clumsiest Dog can’t hit anything fragile.

And presiding over all of it, bestowing its graceful presence on everything below, is our tree-topper angel—teetering dangerously forward as though she were about to leap from her place of heavenly glory and into a swimming pool far below. You know, the one at the first motel, where the angels did stay?

The reason for this perilous perch? Well, our home used to belong to Heather’s grandparents, and her English grandmother wanted one that had a Tudor “look.” So there’s a big, beautiful bay window in the front room, just perfect for framing a Christmas tree – and behind it, a series of thick brown beams projecting from the ceiling, one of them hanging above the exact center of the window.

So every year, we have to choose. We can either shift the tree off-center so that it can extend to its full glorious height, while triggering the OCD of every resident and passing driver. Or we can put the tree in its natural spot, where the angel of the Lord is squeezed into submission by a burst of misplaced architectural enthusiasm.

This year, we squeezed. In an odd way, it seemed fitting.

In the musical “1776,” Ben Franklin talked about how revolutions are brought into the world “half improvised and half compromised.” To my mind, it’s even truer of the Christmas season. Beneath the wonder and beauty – and sometimes not far beneath – is a constant tap dance of just making things work. We cover for lost or damaged decorations. We negotiate over whose turn it is to visit for dinner this year. We struggle to find enough hours in the day, dollars in the budget, or sanity in the mind to make everything work. Heck, even the original Christmas story featured a feed box that was pressed into services as a baby bed.

And somehow, we do make it work. Not because it’s picture-perfect. But because it’s ours, brought forth in love and desperation, cobbled together from what we have.

That’s Christmas. That’s family. That’s life.

And despite all the choices and compromises – or maybe even because of them – it often still becomes something wonderful. A bit strange, maybe. But wonderful all the same.

There’s an odd kind of peace in that. A chance to truly “be not afraid” and see things from a more forgiving perspective.

In fact, we may be right on the beam.

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