“Mommy, when will we get our Christmas tree?” Kerrie twirled around the kitchen. Gusts of warm, humid air blew through the window. Pauline glimpsed the farmers returning from the rice paddies as the sun set.
“Sweetie, pine trees don’t grow in this part of India.”
Kerrie stopped midtwirl. “But, we have to have a tree. Where will we put the presents?”
“We’ll have one next year when we’re back home.”
Sensing a gathering storm on her daughter’s face, Pauline said, “Talk to your daddy.”
Over dinner, Kerrie appealed to Russ for a Christmas tree. “Even a fake one. Please.”
Pauline observed her husband frown in concentration, an idea flickering in his dark eyes.
On Christmas Eve, Pauline peeled potatoes while her mind wandered home to Ohio. She imagined driving through snow-covered streets to the tree farm where Russ would cut the perfect pine for their living room.
A thump jolted Pauline from her December daydream and she darted into the front room to investigate. Russ and Kerrie stood beside a potted palm tree.
“Look, Mommy. We have a tree. Daddy said that where Jesus was born they had trees like this. I can’t wait until after dinner to decorate it.” Kerrie’s face glowed with excitement.
“It’s the one from the clinic verandah. They said I could borrow it for a few days. None of them have seen a Christmas tree before,” Russ revealed.
As her husband and daughter dragged the squat plant across the room, Pauline pined over the boxes of ornaments and lights sitting in their attic in Akron. How will we decorate this thing?
To buy some time, Pauline ordered Kerrie to complete her chores. The local clinic staff was invited for a Christmas Eve meal. Now they would be expecting to see a decorated tree.
“Russ, I know your heart is in the right place. But, how will we decorate this thing? We don’t have any lights or ornaments or anything.”
Russ leaned over and gave his wife a peck on the cheek. “You had one of the best decorated homes in the neighborhood. You’ll think of something.”
The village had a general store crammed with everything from toothpaste to turmeric, so Pauline ambled over there, hoping to find inspiration tucked on a shelf. She scanned the merchandise and found nothing resembling a Christmas ornament.
“What you need?” the shopkeeper asked. “I help.”
Pauline rambled, “Gopal, it’s Christmas. I want decorations for the tree my husband brought. But I see you don’t have anything like that.”
“Decorations? Birthday?” Gopal called out something in Telegu to a boy in the loft above him. Before Pauline could correct the shopkeeper, the boy threw down several small packages which Gopal caught. He thrust them at Pauline who examined the contents.
“I think this might work. Thank you.” She counted out some rupees and handed them to Gopal.
“Who birthday it is?”
Pauline started to correct him, but changed her mind and smiled. “It’s Jesus’ birthday.”
“Come to the house tonight. Bring your family. We will tell you about Jesus.”
Back at home, Pauline showed Russ and Kerrie the packages she bought.
“Mommy, where are the ornaments?”
“Well, this is all they had at the shop. Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, so I thought we could decorate the tree with these streamers and balloons.”
Kerrie tore open one of the bags. She and Russ blew up the multicolored balloons while Pauline unrolled a spool of crepe paper and wound the red strips around the palm tree. She tied a long piece into a bow and taped it to the plant pot. The family sang as they set the balloons on the broad leaves and tucked them between the branches.
Soon after, their guests poured into the house and marveled at the transformed tree. Gopal clutched a string of marigolds and scanned the room.
“Where Jesus?” He held up the garland. “We give for birthday.”
Russ chuckled. “He’s not here. Let me explain.”
Everyone sat on the floor and Russ told the guests the Christmas story while one of the clinic nurses translated. He then explained that the Christmas tree was a symbol to remind us of Jesus’ birth.
Gopal stood up. “I put on tree for Jesus.” He held out the garland and draped it around the tree.
The guests drifted into the kitchen, while Kerrie’s lingered to admire the unusually decorated tree. “Happy birthday, Jesus,” she whispered.
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