We don’t have any ornaments for our Christmas tree — at least none that I can find as I push through cardboard boxes in the musty space below the basement steps. But I do locate the green plastic tree that we put up every year.
It is a week or two before Christmas in 2019. The snow is falling fast outside, and my eight-year-old brother, Luke, waits for me on the couch upstairs. I promised to put up the tree with him, refusing to let my parents do it before I returned home from my university in Toronto.
After I haul the long, narrow box up the stairs, my brother and I slot the three pieces of the trunk together. We plug in the colourful lights and admire our handiwork. “It needs…something more,” I say. Luke agrees, and I enlist his elementary-school art skills to draw up some ornaments while I make hot chocolate.
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As the sweet powder congeals to the lip of my mug, I watch my brother hunched over our kitchen table with crayon in hand. When I was his age, I barely celebrated Christmas with my parents. We weren’t exactly the poster family for the holidays: two Chinese immigrants and their daughter in Normal, Ill. (yes, that’s really the town’s name). Decorations minimal and spirit lacklustre, Dec. 25 passed by as quietly as it arrived.
Then came Luke. He was born when I was 11 years old, and everything felt new with him. New parents, mellowed by age and assimilation; new hometown in Millburn, N.J.; new plump face and small hands that reached for mine when he was scared. New sister, new brother. I do not know if there’s a word for when you look at somebody and hope to give them the world, small and secure enough to tuck into their pocket.
That night, as I stand in the kitchen, he smiles up at me, showing me 10 drawings of stick figures and Lego battlefields. I smile back and cut out his pictures, threading a piece of yarn through a hole on the top of each one. We hang them up together. We’ll hang them up again next year.
Stephanie Bai was Broadview’s summer intern and is a student at the University of Toronto.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s December 2021 issue with the title “Everything new again.”
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