Woodland edible garden Christmas tree party

On the coldest of days, we had warmth. In the darkest of seasons, we found light. When weather turned and kept us isolated in our homes, we came to be together.

The Story Garden at 35th and Humboldt continues to be a place where peace is priority, hope is grown, and we work towards justice for the earth and each other.

This past December, the Boys to Men Club and the Story Garden created a Woodland Edible Garden Christmas Tree. Neighbors put it up in the community garden that was site where the 2011 tornado hit. Where a home with a loving family used to stand, then sat vacant, empty and dark. Two years ago it was turned into a thriving community garden that nourished the community and brought neighbors together. Yet even in the midst of its purpose, in these cold months of winter, it was sitting empty, barren and dark. It physically represented on the outside what many of us feel on the inside.

But we had an idea. What if we put an edible Christmas tree for the animals — right in the middle of this space? A beacon of light in the midst of the dark lot and dark corner. A source of food when it is hard to find. A small billowing beacon of light, unexpectedly where no light was before?

Light has a way of reaching into our spirit and warming us from the inside out. Its purpose is to break apart the darkness. Both symbolic and representative in nature. Living on the Northside, I have a very real and personal encounter with this project. The garden sits right next to our home and for the last week, every time I come home, and that tree is lit, I feel its warmth. A smile spreads and in a way that nothing else this holiday season has done, it gives me hope. This lot is now home to a slightly off kilter Christmas tree with a broken top, wrapped in a string of lights. It’s slightly homely, mostly Charlie Brownish, and yet, because of its lack of brilliance and spectacle, it shines even brighter to me. It represents not only how I see myself, but also our community. A little wounded, slightly broken, but not lost. Still it shines even as it wars with the wind to stand up right. It is a symbol of hope in a dark place.

The woodland edible garden tree is in its second year, and of course the day of our Christmas party was when it happened to be -12 degrees outside! Neighbors would not be deterred by the cold though, and out they came to the Story Garden to usher in the season of light and hope by decorating the garden Christmas tree! It is humbling to be surrounded by the generosity, open heartedness and strength of Northsiders.

Neighbors helped bake cookies, make hot cocoa, build a fire, string popcorn and decorate animal edible ornaments. Bill Moore even played Santa and came and handed out candy canes to all who came out. Mittens and hats were given out, carols were sung, and folks stayed for almost an hour in the bitter subzero temps! We were having so much fun, and hearts were warmed by being together!

There is something profound that you can only experience when you are in this space. It is hope in the flesh. It is acceptance of all people. It is joy and love and a true understanding that together you can overcome injustice.

A symbol of hope. A place for us to care for our neighbors and animals together. An unexpected piece of joy in an otherwise dark corner. It is incredible how something so small and simple can bring actual joy and represent what we all long for in our lives. Decorating the tree to feed the animals in the depths of winter while enjoying a warm fire, homemade cookies, hot cocoa and carols was a true gift.

Hope. Peace. Joy. Light in the darkness.