In 2001, my friend Linda sent me an Ikea Christmas tree for the holidays. No, it wasn’t a leafy, green traditional tree. It was green, twisted wires with LED lights on them, attached to a gray metal base – a tree only in the abstract. It was the kind of tree that would have made Charlie Brown scratch his head and mutter, “WTF?” But I loved it. Linda and I had been exchanging crazy gifts since we met at work in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1980. The tree was perfect. With the addition of two AA batteries in the base, the tree’s lights would blink or stay lit depending on the push of a button. It turned out to be a great tree for my tiny apartment, one that did not interest my two cats, Smokey and Ozzy. Whenever I got green artificial trees, one of them would think the leaves were real and I would inevitably find green plastic pieces in the litter box. At night, I put my Ikea tree on my dresser and turned on the lights. In spite of my severe nearsightedness, I could always discern the blinking colors from across the dark room. The displaying of the Ikea tree became part of my annual Christmas ritual, like setting up the Christmas pigs (collected because of my last name) and putting the electric candle in my window.
In December 2011, I was going to be evicted from my Sacramento apartment a week before Christmas. I gave or threw away most of my belongings and put what remained in a small storage unit. I was planning to stay for a few weeks with a friend in Berkeley, who did not celebrate Christmas. Even though it was going to be the worse Christmas of my life, I wanted to take something to commemorate the season. I had put most of my holiday decorations in storage, except for my holiday CDs, one little Christmas pig, and my ten-year-old Ikea tree.
My friend’s house was not how I imagined it would be, and neither was my friend, who had only made the offer in hopes of monetary gain. As soon as I settled into her spare room that night, I was given flimsy, dirty blankets to wrap around me as I slept on the cold wooden floor in the unheated room. I thought about the blankets and comforters I had thrown into the dumpster that morning because they were too bulky to transport or store. But I wrapped the blankets around me, put a Christmas CD in my boom box, and turned on my Ikea tree. Every night for the next week, I would turn on my Ikea tree and find comfort in its festive wire branches.
Five years later, I am living in my own apartment again. It’s a lot smaller than my former home of ten years. But my blankets are clean and my bed is warm. Smokey and Ozzy have crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. My new apartment doesn’t allow cats and I miss having a furry companion to share the holiday with me. But it’s Christmas time and my Ikea Christmas tree shines and blinks for another year. After fifteen years of change and challenge, it’s the only tree I need. It is a reminder of home, no matter where I lay my head. It’s a reminder of the hope and magic of the season. And it is a celebration of my survival.