It is Monday, so it must be my weekly newspaper column–hope you enjoy:
“The Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect.” - Charles N. Barnar
My Christmas spirit is intact. My Christmas tree is up and I wonder now what took me so long. If I remembered more clearly each year how much I love having the tree up, I would probably put it up in mid-October. I am thinking it is a good thing my memory is so poor on this particular point—even I would get tired of having a tree up for two and a half months.
Everyone has a different tradition when it comes to putting up their tree. Those who go the traditional “real” tree route have no choice but to put their tree up a little later as a tree bare of its needles is none too festive on Christmas Day—and that is what happens if you put them up too early. I have not had a real tree for years but I do remember the daily watering and finding needles hidden in the carpet in July—neither of which adds to the charm of a real tree for me. But the smell, the smell is wonderful—which is why I have a wreath of real spruce branches on my door—I can go and stiff it at my leisure, and enjoy it as John Geddes describes the scent beautifully in A Familiar Rain: “freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul….”
I consider the tree I put up a “real” tree in the sense that it carries the weight of Christmases past, the joy of Christmas present, and the probability that it will still be around for Christmas future. It is not one of those more expensive ready-lit trees; it is old, the branches are a bit unwieldy, and though sparse I have the tree in a corner and have trained the branches to curve to the front, so it looks much fuller than it really is.
The tree is always dressed to the hilt—decorations drip from every branch and at the top is a little wooden plaque that I attach to a gold wicker star that declares: “Memories are made every Christmas.” Below it is a beautiful oval ceramic decoration given to me by my sister that purveys the sentiments of the season: “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy.”
I understand that Christmas does not bring everyone joy. I am fortunate in that even though I have lost dear ones at Christmas, known of people who have had to deal with great tragedies during this festive season, and had to deal with troubles of my own—the season brings a respite of sorts for me. I know it does not serve everyone this way—as I said, I am fortunate. (Living in temporary denial helps a lot—somehow I have the capacity to put reality on the back burner for a while.)
I remember reading books about Christmases past, in the days when the Christmas tree was not put up until Christmas Eve, and the crowning glory came when the lights were turned on (or lit during more historical and need I say it, dangerous times) for the first time. I love that tradition but not enough to relive it myself. Amidst the daily grind, I enjoy being able to feast my eyes on something that takes me out of the moment and into a pleasant reverie.
Last night I sat in the living room with all the lights out except for those on the tree—and the word magical sprang to mind. Transforming what is essentially a Charlie Brown Christmas tree into a thing of beauty is truly mystical. And that is highly representative of the season—it is mystical in the way it transforms even Scrooge attitudes into Tiny Tim’s way of thinking.
Christmas does not solve all our problems but the season and its meaning, whether spiritual or secular (or both) gives us something to hang on to. There are those who believe that the “reason for the season” is not given enough air time; but I think that the feelings derived from Christmas do not have to be limited.
There seems to be a controversy over whether one should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. I am not entering the fray—I will stick with Merry Christmas but happily respond to Happy Holidays. At this time of year we should practice tolerance and not get in a snit—stick to your guns and expect others to respect your viewpoint. Problem solved.
I leave you now humming “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, dispersed with a little “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” while listening for some “sleigh bells in the snow.”