Mike's Notes: The Ornament, The Tree, The Heart's Joy

Posted by Mike Henriques


This is not about Black Friday deals or cyber Monday’s 60% off sales. This is not about the blow up Santas or finding the house with the most light-bedazzled, roof-prancing reindeer. It’s not about the 12 days or the advent calendar. This is about an ornament, a gold snowflake found in a fleece jacket, and the 2X tree it hung on. It’s about remembering  the joy that seats itself in the heart, sometimes a far corner, and how small objects and strong memories can help guide us forward.


The ornament.  It’s the last ornament from last year, the first ornament of this one. It’s the one plucked from the tree as I hauled it out to the brush pile last January, the one that’s gold glint caught my eye as I trudged through the snow. It’s funny how there always seems to be one hiding amidst the rogue strands of tinsel and evergreen branches. When I saw it, I stopped in the snow, reached down and pocketed the talisman of the season. But I forgot to tuck it away with the others, so there it hung in the green fleece in the back hallway on the coat rack for almost a year. How could I not have noticed until yesterday morning?

The 2X tree. Before the 2X tree, there’s 1X. The 1X tree is set up in a room with tall ceilings, a post and beam structure with a good twelve feet of height. A step ladder is essential for getting the lights on, and even then the last tight loops at the top are more tossed than placed. Gossamer strings attached to nails to keep the 1X tree from tipping over in its old, cheap, tin-like tree stand with the screw in clamps that are like metal bore beatles. It’s woefully inadequate when it comes to keeping the tree upright. Planetary tree wobble always seems to threaten 1X. But when the ornaments are in place, when the doors are open on Sunday for students to swing through for a visit and spontaneous carols at our home, when “Santa” comes to dispense gifts to the younger faculty and staff children, a bit of seasonal magic spins off the spruce and fills the house. 1X is totally worth the effort. But 2X?  


That’s the existential seasonal question. Do we undecorate, unwind the lights, undo the holiday season in one house and cart it off to another before the 25th? Silly question at Proctor. Of course we do, which is how the 1x tree becomes 2X. All of the ornament boxes come back out of the attic before the mice have even contemplated new homes in the tissue paper. All of the ornaments are lifted off the tree and put back into mostly the right box - the little drummers, the League of NH Craftsmen ornaments, the second-grade holiday projects from the kids. All of the lights rolled back around newspaper tubes. The floppy stand is unscrewed, the tree eased down and levered out the back door, carried to the truck where the 1X  tree is eased into the bed. It’s usually  double the bed length, so surveyor’s flagging is found for the top branches - the orange transport ornament. Back inside the needles are vacuumed off the rug, then the rest of the truck is packed for the holidays, and the departure north, when it happens, is usually rushed and chaotic.

1X becomes 2X, but the ceilings are lower so measuring is involved, the chainsaw fired up, pruning clippers found. 2X comes inside and is set up in a second wobbly tin stand and the clippers come out to knock inches off the top.There’s a green smudge across the white ceiling as proof of past measuring gaffs. Different ornaments are unboxed, lights unwound and put on 2X, which is a good four feet shorter than 1X. 2X is stubby at the top, bushy at the bottom. It’s all a little tasky, this setting up and taking down for the holidays twice in one season, logistically consuming (as all holidays are), and potentially injurious to the holiday spirit. Particularly when mis-measuring is involved and the light strings only partially work. Doubly so when the dog whacks one of the ornaments with an aggressive tail sweep and sends it flying across the room into the steam radiator, and it’s always an oh-no not that ornament favorite.


The golden snowflake that I found in my fleece yesterday reminded me of all that, and as the first ornament of this season it hangs, almost like a star, guiding me. It guides me past the logistical knots, past the screaming sales, past the gloomy daily news and the gaudy holiday, Vegas-like displays. It helps me find joy and compassion, those sentiments that sit in all hearts, those sentiments we should be calling forth every day. I’m glad I checked my pockets yesterday, and when I look out the back door and onto the deck, I see this year’s 1X waiting. It makes me smile.


Mike Henriques P'11, P'15

Proctor Academy Head of School

Read more of Mike's blog posts here.


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