A College Student's Do-It-Yourself Christmas Tree

With a little creativity, she gave her family a happy holiday celebration.  

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- Posted on Oct 25, 2019

ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL GLENWOOD

Home at last. I’d spent the morning rushing around my college dorm in preparation for winter break. I couldn’t wait to get away from school and the worst first semester I could have imagined. At a university with thousands of students, I couldn’t seem to find anyone I had anything in common with. Was I going to be lonely for all four years?

Don’t think about that now, I told myself. It was Christmas, my favorite holiday. I would put up the Nativity sets all over the house. String lights outside. Arrange my presents around the tree…

“Mom, I’m home!” I called, looking to the corner where we always put the tree. It was empty.

Mom came into the living room and gave me a hug. “Where’s the tree?”

“Oh, Skyla, I’m sorry,” Mom said. “I didn’t get one since we’re going to Aunt Kristi’s this year.”

I could do without lights outside. Even do without presents. But do without a Christmas tree? No way. I went to my room. Ineed a tree, I thought. But what could I do about it now?

I looked around the house helplessly, as if hoping to find a tree I hadn’t noticed before. My eye fell on an origami flower bouquet I’d made for Mother’s Day one year. Someone had given me a book about origami, and for a few months I made flowers nonstop. The bouquet wouldn’t work as a Christmas tree, but maybe if I made something like it, only bigger? In green? It wouldn’t hurt to try! I wanted it to be a surprise, so I waited until everyone went to bed.

Then I got to work. I grabbed a stack of copy paper from Mom’s desk. Next I got out my crayons and my iPad. I typed in origami Santaon YouTube. I figured I’d warm up those origami muscles with something easy first. I followed the motions of the friendly teacher in the video until I had a cute little Santa and reindeer. I taped them up on the wall and started on my tree.

I cut a pile of paper into four-inch squares, colored them green with a crayon and folded them as I had the leaves on Mom’s bouquet. Twenty minutes later I had a bunch of folded green squares taped into a shape that vaguely resembled a spider. How did I think I could ever make a whole tree out of paper?

I needed a new idea. What if I connected the paper leaves to make branches? No origami. No folding. Just flat green pieces and tape. I looked up from my crayons and my eyes went straight to an empty wall space. It seemed to call out: What a great place for a tree!

First came the color…again. I took more white paper and scribbled with green crayon, followed by a few in brown for the tree trunk. I tried to vary how I shaded each sheet, coloring with thick or thin lines, going across or diagonally. When I was done I cut the colored sheets into squares, rectangles and odd-shaped boxes. I didn’t have the whole thing planned. There was no YouTube video to follow.

I sorted the pieces into two piles, one green and one brown, and laid them out right side up on top of our table. A long brown trunk at the bottom, then big pieces of green in the middle, tapering outward into smaller pieces for the branches. Could these random, jagged pieces of paper actually make a tree? I wasn’t sure. I still had nothing to guide me. I moved pieces around until I was satisfied with the shape. Then I turned all the pieces over to back them with packing tape.

When I pulled on the tape it made an ugly shriek coming off the roll. I froze, praying no one would wake up and catch me.

Several hours later I tiptoed through the living room, with the Christmas tree flapping softly in one hand as I walked. Please don’t fall apart, I thought, gripping the roll of tape in my other hand.

It was hard to get the whole thing stuck to the wall. First I had to put up a big strip for the trunk, then cut off little pieces to stick under the leaves where the tape wouldn’t be seen. It was long past midnight, but I colored and cut out more shapes for decorations and “hung” them from the branches. Of course, I put a paper angel at the top.

My fingers were tired. I could barely keep my eyes open. But when I took a few steps back for one last look before bed, I was amazed at what I saw. We had an actual Christmas tree where before we had nothing!

A great bubble of satisfaction and joy welled up within me. Everyone’s going to be so surprised, I thought. I couldn’t wait. I ran to get the Santa I’d made. I stuck him to the wall so that he was flying right past the tree pulled by his reindeer. Then I arranged our presents around the trunk.

I felt a little like Santa myself as I crept off to bed. I woke to excitement the next morning. “I’ve got to get a picture for Aunt Kristi!” my grandmother said, snapping me sitting next to the presents.

I’d thought we’d have to go without a tree at home that year, but I just had to get creative with the resources at my disposal. I took that lesson back to school with me in January. It was the best semester ever, once I saw that God had given me everything I needed there too.

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