Nov 13

The Year of the Christmas Stick

Christmas Stick

In the early 1980’s, when my kids were young teenagers, we had to close our business, leaving us in debt. Collection agency calls came almost daily. I paid my house payment with 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 in a bad way, financially. No way was there money for a Christmas tree.

My husband brought home a beautiful manzanita branch, mounted it on a base and decorated it with red Christmas balls. Not the traditional Christmas tree, to be sure, but pretty. We set our few presents underneath.

Hubby and I were prepared to deal with the substitute tree, trusting that things would be better next year. The kids hated it, calling it the Christmas Stick. They were embarrassed when their friends came to visit.

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 sometime 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 luxuries we’re used to, Christmas trees, lights in the front yard, presents and expensive holiday outings. A year when we become one with folks out there, by virtue of unemployment, natural disaster or illness, 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 high, we’ll laugh about the Year of The Christmas Stick. But we remember its message.

We are grateful for the important things. We are blessed with our families, our health, our faith, all gifts from God. We remember to share our bounty with those who are in need. Folks who might think they were blessed to have a Christmas Stick with a few presents underneath even if it was just sweaters and pajamas and sox, like my kids got that year.

I remember how hard things were when we closed the business and struggled to make ends meet, wondering how we could make good on 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.

16 Responses for "The Year of the Christmas Stick"

  1. James Callan says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing The Christmas Stick with us. And I firmly believe you are right: we should all have a Year of the Christmas Stick. By and large, Americans do not realize how luck they are. And fewer thank God for it. A little difficulty along the way just might make us appreciate all the good things we have. Your story will help. Thanks again.

    Jim Callan

    • Elaine Faber says:

      thanks James. I always read your posts too and enjoy very much. Thanks for your support. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas with loved ones.

  2. Marja McGraw says:

    I remember one Christmas in particular when we had nothing, not even a branch. I made a gift for my daughter and that's all she received from me that year. To my surprise, she loved it. I've been up and I've been down, and you're right, the down times always reminded me that others are in the same spot sometimes. We help where we can. Great post!

    • Elaine Faber says:

      Isn't it interesting that we can't appreciate what we have until it's gone. There must be some great wisdom there. I always say we get sick (colds and flu) so we'll appreciate when we feel good! Hope this year will be a wonderful Christmas for your and yours.

  3. Elaine: What a beautiful story. I also had a Christmas Stick, also a manzanita bush rement decorated with tiny glass bulbs. I lived in San Francisco in a tiny apartment and the bush was JUST PERFECT for my apartment. My two cats, Lao Tzu and Magister Ludi loved the tiny tree, I'm sure they thought it was just for them.
    Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      Glad it brought back happy memories. I guess I get more comments with personal stories than with historical or other types of mysteries on my blog. Hope you have a wonderful holiday with family this year.

  4. P. Lovett says:

    Great story. I've had a few Christmas stick stories (in my life). Thankfully, like you and your family, My family and I always managed to live past the lean times.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      Maybe we all need a good Christmas stick to be able to appreciate our better years. May they all be happy memories for you from now on.

  5. Eileen Obser says:

    This is a story of heartache and near-despair, but filled with faith and determination to turn life around -- which you and your family certainly did. I'll save this one, Elaine, and share it with family and friends. A perfect story for the holidays.

  6. Penny says:

    For me the Christmas Stick was in my barracks at Fort Riley. Too broke to go home, with several orphans I decorated a fiddle leaf fern with lights. We held tight to each other and the hope for better days in the New Year. Even now, I look back and smile. Thanks for the memories, Elaine.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      Glad I could touch your heart and remind you of another Christmas. Hope you will subscribe to my blog for next time.

  7. This is such a great article. My kids are pre-teen and teen, and we have not yet had to have a year of a Christmas stick, mostly because my mother, who grew up relatively poor, has money now and spends it on my kids. She doesn't pay my bills, but she does buy my girls things so that I don't have to, such as clothes, school uniforms, shoes, the things that cost a lot for two girls this age. As much as I appreciate it, I know they do too.

    She also has paid for my Christmas tree as long as I can remember. I would not have had one my college years if she hadn't.

    I have also always favored the trees no one wanted, the short ones or the skinny ones, because I feel like they know nobody wants them. It reminds me of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree special.

    • Elaine Faber says:

      So nice of you to read and comment on my article. It is good to remember and appreciate everyone in our lives who have made the path a little easier. God bless your mom. Hope you will share my story with her and give her a big hug for the things you mention above. Have a blessed Christmas.

  8. Sandra Trezise says:

    Whoa! An inspiring story. I agree, everyone needs a few times when need is present.

  9. Elaine Faber says:

    Agree. We don't appreciate things until our furnace breaks...like yesterday! Yikes! Repaired at 5:30 after a very cold day.
    Christmas's are the same. We need to appreciate what we have

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