"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Christmas Star, 80 Years

This Christmas marks the 80th year a red star has graced the top of a Christmas tree in my family.   It is wrinkled and bent, but its meaning remains the same.

The story is presented here again as my way of wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year.


There were rumors, of course, but no way to know for certain.  If you read the pundits or listened to the politicians on the radio, you could believe anything you wanted to believe, or fear anything you wanted to fear.

They were young and in love.  We don’t know for sure if they discussed the rumors, but almost certainly they did.  Perhaps their love gave them the courage to surmount the rumors, or perhaps it was because of the rumors that they wed on the last day of November. 

On their first Christmas together they purchased a simple red aluminum foil star for the top of their small tabletop Christmas tree.  In the snapshot they stand on either side of the tree, he handsome with curly dark hair, wearing a suit, and she pretty in a sequined dress.  The star has a large hole in the center, obviously meant for a Christmas light to be inserted from the back.

Their first anniversary came on a Sunday a year later and once again we can believe the rumors and threats were not foremost in their minds, because they held a new life in their arms that day.  Their first child, a girl, had been born the previous Sunday.  Now they were parents with a helpless infant to love and protect.

A week later it all changed.  A week later, when their daughter was exactly two weeks old, the Japanese launched a sneak attack against the United States by bombing and strafing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.   The young father did not have to go immediately, but instead worked in manufacturing plants in Detroit

Again the red star adorned the top of the Christmas tree, though this holiday season was fraught with worry and concern.   America was having a difficult time in the war and the country was responding to help in the effort at home.

On their third Christmas the black and white photograph shows them with their year-old daughter between them, in front of the tree topped with a red star.

Eventually the father was called and found himself stationed in the Philippines.  The mother moved from the duplex in downtown Detroit to a large house in a more rural area of the city, where her sister lived with her five children.  While the men were gone to war, the women stayed home and raised their children as best they could.  Letters arrived sporadically from the men, sometimes taking months.

Each time a vehicle slowed in front of the large house, the women would watch anxiously, hoping it would not stop, hoping that bad news would pass them by.  There are no photographs for several years of a tree topped with a red star.  We know it was there only through oral stories, the decorated tree with the red star.

The men came home from the war but jobs were hard to find.  Soon the young couple moved to Alaska to begin a new life in a territory far from home.  The photographs began again and every year the same star graced the family Christmas tree.

One season the mother brought home a beautiful angel in a white gown trimmed with gold, decorated with spun glass.  She placed it atop the Christmas tree and set aside the old piece of red foil.  The eldest of the four children objected and the younger ones added their concurrence.  They wanted the old red star back on their tree.  The angel disappeared.



This evening, sixty-six years after it first was placed on top of a tree in the home of a hopeful, newly-wed couple facing threats of world war, it was once again fastened to the top branch of an evergreen, though it is now a miniature light that pierces its center and allows it to shine.  It bears the signs of its age, creased, wrinkled, and flattened.    The young couple is gone now, he before she by several years.  The youngest of their three daughters also is gone, well before her time.

The second child, a son, also went off to war and returned.  He now has two sons and a daughter.  The third child, a daughter, herself has two daughters.

And I, that child born two weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I am the one who placed that battered star in its place of honor.  As I did I thought of my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews.  We who remain are scattered from one side of the country to the other.   Like that star, we bear the signs of age, faces creased and hands wrinkled with age, hopes and dreams pressed with the realities of life. 

I wonder which of the nieces or nephews will take the star when I am gone.  Which of them will someday say, “This star has shone from the top of our family tree for exactly one hundred years.”

Emerging under a threat of war, strengthened in a move to a frontier land, unscathed by accidental fire, wounded by untimely death, tempered by love, rewarded with allegiance, this star has seen it all.  There’s a lifetime of stories in its crinkles and creases.  They give it character.

Courage, strength, survival, loss, love, dedication and above all else:  hope.  That is the significance of this old red star atop the Christmas tree.


  1. Excellent story Jeanne. Let's hope that the rest of the family will keep up the tradition. It is amazing that you have managed to keep that star all these years.

  2. Jeanne, this is beautiful, brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for keeping that Red Foil Star alive!

  3. Love that story....and you. Merry Christmas my friend.

  4. A small red star evokes a treasure chest of memories. It's so nice that you've kept it, cherished it and have always topped your Christmas celebrations with it.

  5. Jeanne ... this story always touches my heart and brings tears of awe. This lovely star, which appears to have aged with grace and dignity, symbolizes so much. Thank you for sharing once again the message it carries. Love and hugs for 2016 to you! Patti and Cap

  6. Jeanne ... this story always touches my heart and brings tears of awe. This lovely star, which appears to have aged with grace and dignity, symbolizes so much. Thank you for sharing once again the message it carries. Love and hugs for 2016 to you! Patti and Cap

  7. In my opinion YOU need to NOW pass the star along to the nieces and explain its meaning. You can NOT assume they will automatically ever get it and know its meaning. You leave this life and the star is just buried with 'things' in boxes or where ever. Have any of them read about it and touched the star. Without its history and them being aware of it the star will quietly be thrown away. IF you really love this star you need a working mechanism to get it to an heir. I fear that its deep meaning lies only within you. Without its history being known to someone the poor star is just a tattered old memento. Just a thought .. Cap ..

    I am curious why this post is not also labeled Christmas. It is buried in your list of labels under the letter 'T' as THE Christmas Star. Why not Christmas Star .. I went looking for possibly a previous story about it and have come up empty.

  8. Love the story, Jeanne. I remember the star on your tree at your parents house.
    Didn't know you kept it. I agree with Cap. Without the stories, the star will mean nothing to the family.
    Love you!! Merry Christmas!

  9. I LOVE this story each year Jeanne and the tradition you have kept alive with this star. It truly symbolizes the spirit of the season: hope, light, love, loyalty. Cap said above "Love and hugs for 2016". Don't know where he came up with 2016, but, I will add . . Love and hugs for the end of 2020 and into 2021! Your story has again warmed my heart. Patti and Cap

  10. Never tire of this story Jeanne. Thanks for bringing it back for us to enjoy again. Happy you have it now listed under Christmas Star. We wish you a Merry Little Christmas. Cap and Patti

  11. I have an angel tree-topper that belonged to my parents long before I was born. Such treasures we have. Great story.

  12. I'm glad you posted this again. It brings back memories of our families getting together every Christmas in Detroit. You don't appreciate the struggles our families went through during the war until you are much older. This brought tears to my eyes this morning. I' am glad that we have been able to reconnect with each other after so many years apart. Cousin Bud.

  13. Hello Jeanne,
    Cap and Patti sent me the link to your Red Star Story above, and Patti "told" the story to our family Zoom gathering on Christmas Day-- that little Red Star is spreading its warmth ever further and warming more hearts in more places in the world! Thanks so much for writing this, and for writing it so well. Wishes for peace and love to you always, Danny

  14. We have a tree topper now approaching its 50th year. About 5 years ago I passed it along to a daughter who now says her favorite Christmas tradition is placing that topper on her tree. She has two daughters who, hopefully, will enjoy the history of our tree topper and carry on the tradition. Thanks for a beautiful story.