So let me get this straight.
You kill a tree, or hire someone to do it for you.
You drag said dead tree into your house, rearranging the furniture so as to give it a place of prominence. You then proceed to cover it with lights, pieces of colored glass and tin, and bits and bobs of food and fluff.
And why is this, exactly?
Before you label me a Grinch and beat me into the holiday spirit with candy canes, I’m not complaining here. I like holiday traditions, particularly the Christmas tree. It just seems a little odd, you know?
There are some people, Christians even, who don’t do the Christmas tree thing. I spoke with such a man last night. He lumps the Christmas tree in with Santa Claus and Easter eggs and other fluff that takes his eyes off of Christ, whose birth we are supposed to be celebrating.
Other people want to tell you about the pagan origins of Christmas trees and the whole Christmas tradition. It was just Rome’s way to incorporate the heathen by putting a Christian layer over druidic fertility rites, they will explain.
I’ve also been told that Martin Luther invented the Christmas tree—something about walking through a snowy wood at night and seeing a lone tree beautifully lit up in the starlight. He was so moved that he brought the tree inside…
Frankly, I’m not so concerned about the origins of the Christmas tree. Perhaps I am being spiritually naïve, but I am far more interested in the symbolism it holds for my family and me than with what it may have meant to the ancient druids.
When I think about Christmas trees, I think of being a kid, and helping my mom haul the tree up the stairs to our second-story apartment. We would set it up in the living room, and Mom would proceed to trim the bottom branches in an effort to make it “even.” Lacking a pair of pruning shears, Mom would go to work with a pair of scissors and a steak knife while I judged the progress. Our conversations would go something like this:
“It’s a little high on the right.”
Zoopa Zoopa Zoopa (this is the sound of a steak knife cutting wood).
“How about now?”
“Now it’s a little high on the left.”
Zoopa Zoopa Zoopa…”How about now?”
Back and forth we would go, until the little tree was, shall we say, streamlined. Then we would stand together and sing,
“Oh, Christmas Stick, Oh Christmas Stick
How lovely is your branch.”
You can’t buy memories like that. And that’ what the tree is, ultimately. It’s a repository of remembrances. Each ornament that we put on is a reminder of a time, a place, a person. We decorate with ornaments that I remember using as a child to decorate our stick. We have some from Cathy’s childhood, including some delightful examples of her early artistic prowess. My childhood and my bride’s come together on the tree, added to the ornaments our children have brought to the picture. For a few weeks, that evergreen in the corner becomes part of the family, like a great grandparent sharing “I remember when…” stories.
The tree reminds us of deeper things, as well. Eternal life shown in an evergreen tree. The light of the world demonstrated on every twinkling branch. The star, pointing the way for all who would worship the King. Good stuff.
All this comes to mind as I sit looking at this year’s tree. She—she looks like a she to me—is about seven feet tall, though somehow she looks smaller. Perhaps this is because she is as yet undecorated. The family is thinking we should call her Macy, in honor of Miracle on 34th St. (Yes, we name our Christmas trees…problem?) Anyway, that would be an appropriate name, since it is due to the play that she is still bare one-third of the way through December. With Cathy and Carissa consumed with the show, the responsibility has fallen on my shoulders, which means it hasn’t happened.
Today, dear Macy…probably today.
And I promise…no steak knives.