No Star In All the Heavens

A Most Unusual Christmas Tree

Visitors who come to our home near the holidays are often struck by the sight of a most unusual Christmas tree. Instead of a fir or some other traditional kind, we have a palm tree decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments. It has special meaning for my family.

When our daughter was fourteen she was stricken with an “incurable” disease and nearly died. She spent about a month in the hospital, much of it in intensive care fighting for her life. She had to deal with an awful disease as well as many blood transfusions and the side-effects of the chemotherapy, steroids, and other harsh medications. She met each challenge, disappointment and setback with courage and class.

Eventually, the disease went into remission and she began to dream of having a party and a bonfire for her 16th birthday at the beach with her friends, relatives, and beloved dog Ginger. It took quite a bit of searching, but we finally found a beach that had all the necessary attributes including allowing dogs and bonfires, and that was easy to access for elderly relatives.

A week before her party, the disease flared up and 15 glorious months of remission ended.

Then, at 9pm the night before the party, a friend called with some news that turned our plans upside down. He’d just heard that the small beach that we’d selected and the surrounding beaches were about to be overwhelmed by a 30,000-person event that would essentially close them to a private party when we’d planned to be there.

So that beach was out and no other beach within a reasonable driving distance had all of the attributes required to make her dream come true.
Our daughter had her heart set on having her family and friends, dog, and a bonfire at the beach, but as usual she didn’t complain. In her young life she has had to deal with much worse things than a spoiled birthday party. But it was just the final straw on a mountain of straws that finally broke the camel’s back. She sat down and quietly began to cry.

She then quickly decided that she’d rather have the party at our home so that she could at least have her dog, relatives, friends, and a bonfire. We began making the calls to invitees about the changed plans.

When guests began arriving at our home (which is about 30 miles from the nearest beach) the next day they were surprised to find a sign that read:
“Welcome to our beach, where Dogs and Bonfires are Welcome. Though the beach is small and the waves are so far away that you need to close your eyes to see them, but not the love for our daughter and her little dog too.”

Laid out before them was the smallest, goofiest beach you ever saw, but it had been built with love. Our friends had at a moment’s notice dreamt up creating a beach in our backyard. They had surprised us by arriving several hours earlier with a car loaded down with 660 pounds of sand, a palm tree, beach toys, fish netting, Tiki Torches and much more. Our friends and son had then helped to set everything up.

The beach was built with so much love that it quickly became real to everyone there. The birthday girl and her friends frolicked in the sand, had a barbecue, built their own huge ice cream sundaes, and splashed in the water of a little pool. Then as night fell they lit the Tiki torches and enjoyed a great bonfire.

In the dark, by the light of the torches and bonfire, and with the splashing sounds from those playing in the water of the small wading pool in the background, the scene had indeed seemed to magically transform into a beach.
That night as the girls laughed and played on the “beach” around the bonfire with our funny little dog, I felt for a moment that all was right in the world, and was very grateful to our friends for making our daughter’s birthday wish come true after all.

A few months later, as the holidays neared, our daughter suggested that we use the palm tree that helped make the “beach” so special instead of getting a Christmas tree. We liked the idea so much that it is now the tree we use most every year.

No Star in All the Heavens

The story of the star that sits atop our tree goes back over thirty-five years. I was a young single man whose business was failing. Finances were very tight. I had enough money to buy a Christmas tree but not enough for ornaments or other decorations. A young woman who I was dating at the time saw how bare the tree looked. She made a big star out of a piece of cardboard that she’d cut out herself and then wrapped in aluminum foil that she taped to it. It sure looked good on top of my nearly-bare tree! A year later that young woman became my wife.

That star has sat in the place of honor on every Christmas tree we’ve had for over thirty years. During all the good years it reminds us of times when things weren’t so good, and during rough years it reminds us that bad times don’t last forever. But most of all, it reminds us as to how blessed we are to have the love of our family and friends.

Over the years the star became ragged-looking and has often been repaired by adding still more aluminum foil and tape. My wife sometimes suggests that we replace it with a store-bought tree-top ornament, but I can’t bring myself to do it, because that star—-and now that most unusual Christmas tree that so proudly holds it up—-are powerful reminders of the wonderful acts of love that to me embody the true Spirit of Christmas.

No star in all the heavens is more beautiful to me than the one that sits atop our tree.

These stores are excerpts from my books “From the Heart of a Grateful Man” and “Reflections of a Grateful Man” available on

The star in the photos is actually a quick replacement I made for this post as we’re not yet done decorating the tree or the house. We haven’t yet located the 35-year old one yet, which is about a 1/3 smaller than this temporary one I made. (I got carried away when making it!) It is however, a reasonable facsimile to the one My Beloved made for me all those years ago.

With Love,
RussChristmas Palm Tree 2 photo

Christmas Pam Tree 1 photo

Christmas Tree Star photo

About russtowne

I'm awed by the beauty of nature and the power of love and gratitude. Some of my favorite sensory experiences include waves crashing on rocky shores, waterways in ancient redwood and fern-filled forests, and rain. My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 5 grandchildren. I manage a wealth management firm that I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of approximately 60 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children.
This entry was posted in Abundance, Adversity, Beauty, Challenges, Children, Creativity, Dreams, Family, Family "Fun", Gifts, Goodness, Gratitude, Illness, Ingenuity, Kindness, Loss, My Written Works Misc., Non-fiction Stories I've Written, Non-Fiction Writing I've Done, Pain & Grief, Parenting, Photos I Took, Strength, True Stories I've Written, Writing, Youth and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to No Star In All the Heavens

  1. I enjoyed the stories you shared here today. I wrote about stars this week, too:

  2. Mrs. P says:

    Incredibly touching stories…thank you for sharing them, Russ.

  3. utesmile says:

    Actually with tinfoil it looks rather sparkly…. good idea! Iti swonderful that you still stick to the 30 odd year old star, as it means so much to you both. That is love!

  4. Your star is exactly like ours… and our ‘creche’ is the same one my husband made some 35-40 years ago for our children with bits of wood he had and black and white paint which were the only colors we had….and glitter on top to signify the way snow glitters in the moonlight.. Now we knew that Bethlehem didn’t have snow but we did in Canada so we justified it…. and a star covered in aluminum foil on the front with little figurines in it. We still use it instead of replacing it with a store bought one… Yours is a wonderful story of why you use a palm tree…. Diane

  5. Beautiful. In my rush to get through blog reading I came across yours, stopped, and slowly read to absorb the love in this post. Absolutely beautiful.

  6. What great stories the type of stories one likes to hear at this time of year

  7. bulldog says:

    What a wonderful share Russ… wonderful…

  8. Wonderful story. I do hope that your daughter is OK now.

    • russtowne says:

      She has had some relapses, but most have been relatively minor and she has been able to avoid being readmitted into the hospital. Every day she stays out is a great day in my book. Thank you for your concern, positive hope, and for asking, Elizabeth.

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