In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in debt. Collection agencies called almost daily. I had to pay my house payment on the Visa card. We gave up a 1972 Cadillac convertible to settle a business obligation. The IRS emptied our meager bank account (without notice) to pay the overdue California sales taxes, resulting in bounced checks all over town.
Christmas came and we were financially in a bad way. No way was there much money for Christmas, much less a Christmas tree.
My husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base, sprayed it white and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set a few presents underneath; mostly sweaters and pajamas and sox.
Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it. They called it The Christmas Stick and where humiliated when their more fortunate and affluent friends visited.
We muddled through that financial disaster, took a second mortgage on the house at 14% interest (true) and paid off all the debts. The next Christmas we were back on our feet and had a real Christmas tree.
I was thinking the other day that sometimes in our life, we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. A year when we can’t afford to buy the children expensive gifts that break before New Year’s Day. A season where we do without the typical luxuries we enjoy; Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we can truly commiserate with folks who are unemployed, suffering natural disaster or illness, many who are without a tree, without gifts, for that matter, maybe without a home with a chimney for Santa to slid down.
It’s been over forty years since the Year of the Christmas Stick. On Christmas Day, as our family stumbles from the table loaded down with turkey and all the fixings and we gaze at our ten-foot- tall Christmas tree with gifts piled underneath, invariably someone mentions the Year of The Christmas Stick. And we contemplate its message.
We are grateful for our families, our health, and our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with folks who would feel blessed to have a few gifts for the kids beneath a Christmas Stick.
I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make pay off our business debts, keep our home and feed our kids. We struggled and persevered and made do with a manzanita branch for a Christmas tree. Looking back, I remember and thank God for the Year of the Christmas Stick. We all learned lessons I hope we will never forget.