Red and green boxes tower, cluttering the entryway and dining room. A ladder stands at the ready. The three of us step back and stare at the re-assembled artificial tree.
“It looks great!” Katie gushes.
“It’s ready to go,” Cooper agrees.
I shake my head. At least two sections of attached lights refuse to glow.
I ask Cooper to unplug and replug the lights. We jiggle strands. We examine tiny white bulbs.
No change. Sections of the tree remain dark.
I remember that a few of years ago I bought one of those “As Seen on TV” devices — a plastic tool that promises to fix most Christmas lights. Katie finds it in a kitchen drawer.
The printed instructions are long since gone, but we find a link online and reacquaint ourselves with the questionable process.
Then we discover that the tool runs on teeny-tiny batteries, and the batteries are corroded.
So we abandon the partially lit, undecorated tree. We leave Christmas carols playing in the family room and dash to the grocery store.
Cooper hunts down the specialty batteries. Katie selects her favorite flavor of eggnog. I choose some hot cocoa.
In no time we’re back at home. Seasonal beverages will have to wait. I want those lights to shine.
We replace the batteries. We follow every single step of the magical light fixer-upper.
Nothing but darkness remains in the middle.
My shoulders sag. We can’t move forward with beads and ornaments and ribbon until the lights work. I start running through scenarios in my head.
Cooper gently touches my arm.
“It’s OK, Momma, without those lights,” he says. “That’s not what the season is about.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to discern sincere Cooper from sarcastic Cooper, but today there was no question.
I hand the light fixer back to Katie to return to the drawer. I pour cups of eggnog and cocoa for the kids. I drape strands of pearl and crystal beads on the tree, moving the stepladder around, asking for advice on placement, doing my best to ignore the darkened bulbs.
I open the first box of ornaments, and one at a time we begin to hang them on the tree. We share stories and memories about most of them.
The cowboy and cowgirl from the summer we spent a week at a dude ranch. The tin robot from the year that tiny Cooper wore robot pajamas almost every night. The purple narwhal from an art fair in Boston the year that Katie dressed as a narwhal for Halloween.
The cross from Katie’s baptism. The angel my mom made years before she died. The ceramic plaque that says “Believe.”
One by one we unpack symbols of the reason for the season in our house — hope, love, joy, peace and belief in a child sent from heaven to save humanity.
When I admire our finished tree, I no longer see dim sections. Instead, I’m reminded of my son’s sweet words and the memories stored up in that tree and the hope that my family relies on every day. My eyes and heart are drawn to the light that dispels darkness.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.