Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas trees are the weirdest tradition.

This is my Christmas tree this year. It says hello.

This is the first year, for me, that it really feels like a Christmas tree. We bought it from a reputable dealer who gave it a fresh cut and knew how tall it was. We measured to make sure how tall of a tree would responsibly fit in the space we have. We bought some foil garland and some new glass ornaments (and some robots) to put on the tree. We have a few older ornaments from Matt's previous tree, but they were all of a type, and now it's finally achieved "glorious mishmash" status, where the unique weird non-themed stuff outweighs the coordinated things. There are still ornaments I'd like to phase out with stuff that is meaningful to us and our kids, but that'll come with time.

Now, with all of that said... Christmas trees are a very odd tradition. I mean, for me a tree is kind of necessary. It isn't Christmas if there isn't a tree of some sort, and it's got to have some sort of gaudy lights and glass and tinsel strewn about it, and it's got to be lit at least occasionally. It's better if it's big, and not a grocery-store Norfolk Pine in a pot (as I have made due with back on my first Christmas away from home), but there needs to be something. I don't begrudge people their fake trees -- I prefer real, and even on holidays where there was no tree available, I still brought in evergreen branches for the smell as much as anything else -- but move to the beat of your own little drummer boy, you know? It's all about the good tree love, man.

But, that being said, real, fake, whatever -- the whole thing is odd. The idea of cutting down a tree, bringing it into the house, and putting stuff on it for a display... who had that idea in the first place? Branches I understand -- they smell good and are festive and evergreen, which is a lovely thing in the winter months, but a whole tree is something else entirely. While the origins of trees are unclear, it may have started in pre-Christian times with nature-worshipping peoples in Germany and eastern Europe, although bringing about branches and garlands is fairly widespread (although I still question why tree-worshippers would cut a tree down to bring it indoors to a private dwelling -- a public space makes more sense, I suppose). And then it transformed into a candy and treat display, and from there gained candles and entrance into private homes (starting from the rich and royal and moving on down in society), a symbol of the sacred in everyday life -- though what sacred thing it represents is largely lost now, other than Christmas.

It is a blatantly silly thing nowadays. We put up (in some cases assemble) a tree or tree-like creations upon which to string lights and bits of shiny stuff so as to announce, to ourselves as well  as others (because it's almost always by a window) that the Christmas season is here! And yet, without it... Christmas is diminished. It's as though we need one to share in, because without it, with only public trees to contemplate and meditate upon, it's as though the season passes us by. Without the ritual of the Christmas tree, Christmas itself is lost in some very real way. It is important if only as a step away from normal life, a small shrine to a festival of light and life in the midst of a season of dark and cold, near but not on the longest night of the year, and full of hope that its meaning, whatever that may be -- its inherent cheerfulness will somehow communicate itself not only to those around it, but also to the coming season as well.