IT was not that I couldn't afford a tree, but rather, I realized, that I couldn't afford not to be innovative. Christmas trees - festive and sweet as they are - are much the same each year. And because I was 3,000 miles away from home, young as a green tomato, alone, and quite frankly glad I was alone, I made a tree of coat hangers.
It was more important to me to be innovative rather than sentimental.
In my sixth-floor apartment by a rocky coast, I bent, twisted, and shaped what I thought was an ingenuously engineered tree, about three feet tall. I hung it from a ceiling light like a mobile, attached a dozen spoons, three dozen large dangling paper clips, many bows of red ribbons, very small Christmas tree bulbs, and one red sock half-filled with jelly beans to act as an anchor.
The ugliness of it assured its beauty.
My conviction then was that Christmas should be a prod. It comes to ask questions such as: During the year, have you lived spiritual precepts as fully as the bestowal of God's goodness? Have you finally, once and for all, stopped being so serious?
Have you been innovative, or have you lived sloppily on residual power, playing out the familiar and comfortable while you turn gray inside? Have you loved when everyone and everything around you seems sad and broken?
One of my answers was the Christmas tree of hangers, a symbolic defiance of the status quo.
On Christmas Day the coastline was pounded by a storm - great black waves bashing against the rocks - and swirls of light snow. I called home to thank one and all for love, for gifts, for support. Then I drove to a spit of land where the waves hit rocks and sent spray shooting into my face.
Drenched but exhilarated, I went home for hot cider and silence.
As I opened the door of my apartment, a gust of wind caught the tree of hangers and sent it spinning. The spoons clanged, the paper clips were tinny. Listen, I said to anyone and everything that might have been listening, this is the Merry Christmas of all time and place.
Would you care for a jelly bean or a spoon?