Updated: Aug 7, 2019
The Christmas story includes the tale of the three wise men who followed a star from the east to the town of Bethlehem where they found the mother, Mary, and her baby, Jesus. The Wise Men, filled with joy, presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is a beautiful, rich family narrative full of goodwill for all the world.
The family story I am writing also revolves around a Christmas star, a mother, and her son. With just a few exceptions: it takes place in the southeast, the goodwill is a little lacking, and there are definitely no wise men in this story!
For the last decade or so, my husband has posted online a picture of the star on top of our tree. It is a rather humble object, only about seven inches wide. It is made of metal painted with fake snow. A small light bulb illuminates and transforms this lowly object into the celestial hero of our Christmas tree.
This star is probably from the 1940s or 50s. My husband, the youngest of 7 children, remembers it shining on all the trees of his youth. When my son was 10, he wrote a poem about the star that was published in a local magazine:
But somehow this star, so full of memory and sentimentality, now inspires annual gifts of Fool’s Gold, dissension, and mirth.
Perhaps a little background is in order. In the Winslow family, there were five boys born before they finally were blessed with a daughter; four years later, another boy came along. His mother lovingly referred to him as a “surprise,” rather than an accident. This youngest boy was named Billy. When he was a teenager and we were dating, one of his older brothers made a video about the family. In the video were pictures and details of six of the children. Billy was completely left out of the entire video. I remember being righteously insulted on his behalf. He didn’t seem to care; he loved being the youngest of this close-knit family, but it might help to explain his approach to the sentimental star.
So, for more than a decade, my husband has posted a picture of the star on the family Facebook page. Along with the picture, he adds a comment to the effect that he was given the star by his mother because he was her favorite son. This year, along with the picture of the star, he shared a photograph of himself spraying it with fake snow while wearing a t-shirt that said, “Mom likes me best.” Every year his brothers respond to the intentional provocation with a series of rude, but hilarious, statements including things like, “He (Billy) was a mistake, a big mistake.” “I think we should see if Billy has papers for legal custody of the star.” Or my personal favorite, “I hope it shorts out and burns down your house.”
Eventually, all the good-natured insults are exhausted for that season; the star is packed into its cardboard box and placed into the attic. I should leave the story here, but when I was preparing to write this narrative, I questioned my husband on his memories concerning the acquisition of said family star. He seemed reluctant to talk about it and indicated that he was focused on watching Seinfeld, an episode that he had seen probably at least ten times. Recognizing this as a common avoidance technique, I persisted with the questions.
Under sharp investigative pressure, he broke down and said that in the 1990s his parents switched from a real tree to an artificial one. At the same time, they got rid of most of their old decorations and bought new ones. His mom pointed to some boxes in the corner and said he could take whatever he wanted because she was dropping off what was left to Goodwill. The unwanted star lay in a pile of Christmas donations. Billy picked it up and brought it to our home.
For more than two decades this humble object has been placed by Billy onto our fresh Fraser fir tree. It is a connection to his mother, who is no longer with us, to his fun-loving siblings, and to his own children who have also grown up with this star. No doubt this story lacks much of the import of that first Christmas story. Yet, at its core is a mother, her son, and a star that continues to shine.