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.