In a pandemic year, when nothing can be assumed or taken for granted, our team faced a dilemma: do we decorate the house for Christmas?  After all, a couple of annual events had already been canceled and very few people will be here over the next six weeks to enjoy the decorations.  We were reluctant to gather the volunteers who have helped us with this task in the past out of concern for their safety.  Without the help of volunteers, how much decorating could we as a team accomplish?  Yet, we could not resist the smell of a fresh pine tree in the house and the glow of Christmas tree lights to brighten these dark winter days.  Thanks to our good friends at Schumacher’s Family Tree Nursery in Marathon, we did not have to forego those pleasures.

The first decision was where to put the tree.  A photograph from the 1920’s that now hangs in the corridor outside the dining room shows a Christmas tree in the center of the refectory.  With the socially-distanced arrangement in the dining room this year, we actually had the room to put the tree there.  And everyone who will be here in the next six weeks will spend a fair amount of time in the dining room, so that seemed like a good choice.

But that would leave the front hall looking empty.  JustBob solved that problem by purchasing a potted blue spruce.  The tree was set on a small table and adorned with lights and a star at the top.  Then next spring, instead of becoming mulch, the tree can be planted on the grounds and provide shelter for some of our feathered friends that we have grown so fond of.  It is a simple but festive welcome to our home, with a Franciscan flair!

Then there was the dilemma of what to do with the tree that usually takes up residence in the Hesse Lounge during the holidays.  With the reduced use of the Center this year, the Hesse Lounge does not get a lot of traffic these days.  Since we had already decided that our Christmas party for our volunteers could not happen this year (more on that in a bit), there was one less reason to have the tree in that space.  Still, there is one place in the house that does get a lot of use but did not usually get a tree, and that was the chapel.  Like the socially-distanced dining room, the socially-distanced chapel offered a spot for the tree without affecting seating or traffic flow.

Since we had canceled the volunteer Christmas party, we wanted to do something that would let the volunteers know that we were thinking of them and would miss the annual celebration.  We decided to send them each a Christmas card with a token of our appreciation.  Signing, stuffing and addressing all those cards was not a one-person project, though.  As long as we planned to have everyone gather together to help trim the tree(s), we combined the two projects and made a party out of it.  So Tuesday became our team card-signing, tree-decorating, cookie-eating, eggnog-drinking, record-playing, pizza lunch celebration.

Oh, did I say record-playing?  Yes!  If you remember, earlier in November, this Chronicle mentioned the entry from the 1950’s Chronicle reporting the addition of a new phonograph to the clerics’ recreation room (https://sarcenter.com/simple-joys/).  So rather than listen to the radio or a CD of Christmas music, JustBob provided a vintage portable mono-phonograph and several Christmas LP records that may well have been here in 1950.  Besides providing the appropriate Christmas spirit and entertainment, the phonograph and albums added just the right nostalgic flair as we worked to recreate a bit of history for our guests.

By the time Kim had the pizzas ready to eat, the cards were all finished, the chapel and front hall trees were done, and the dining room tree was well on its way to completion.  Everyone had worked up an appetite and all were ready for a break.  Once lunch was over, though, the crew got back to work and finished trimming the dining room Christmas tree.

All in all, it was another wonderful experience of teamwork and community.  Any reservations we had weeks ago when the decorating subject first came up had long since disappeared.  And in this nothing-is-the-same-as-it-used-to-be year, it seems appropriate that we found new and enjoyable ways to maintain familiar traditions.

For the blessings of familiar traditions experienced in new ways, we say Deo Gratias!