Christmas Tree 2010
We awoke to a morning sky of grey steel and the sound of a chilling wind blowing through the wind chimes. I went to the window and beheld the first snow of December. It looked just as I had remembered — feathery flakes strewn all about the balcony, clinging precariously to every unlikely surface imaginable. Though it hadn’t quite been a year since I’d witnessed it, I had managed to forget how a blanket of snow can turn nearly any scene into a pillowy world of clean and quiet — even a balcony littered with the dried and withered twigs of a summer long gone and various disparate tools and artifacts from autumn’s busyness.
Snow had fallen and — though we had been “warned” that it would — I dared not believe it until I saw it gleaming from my own window, for snow is still something of a miracle to me even as I enter my fifth Midwestern winter. I was especially delighted to see the snowfall since this was the Saturday that James and I had planned to go find our Christmas tree.
It’s a tradition we began only last year: to not decorate for Christmas until the first week of December. Where we used to join in with the impatient throngs who give in to the slow-but-sure march of Christmas into November and even October’s hallowed territory, we’ve found that the season is far more festive and restful when we wait. In part, waiting allows for anticipation, of course. But, waiting also means that you give autumn and Thanksgiving their due.
This was only our second year to have a real tree. Real trees are sometimes a struggle, but we feel they’re worth it. We’d selected a tree farm near Elgin, IL, that boasted eight different varieties of trees. I was excited to have such a variety to select from, but I was mostly excited since I’d never before searched for a Christmas tree in the snow!
The field was more impossibly picturesque than I could capture in words or even in photographs. We were surrounded by evergreen boughs laden with swaddling blankets of the year’s delicate first snow. It was not hard to let my imagination run wild and pretend we were in one of those animated Christmas specials I watched every year as a child.
Charlie Brown and Linus were sure to be around the next bend, selecting the crummiest tree of all that just needed a little love. Frosty the Snowman was likely to come thumpity-thump-thumping over the hill at any moment. Rudolph was lost, here, wandering in a snowy forest of Christmas trees, making his way to the Isle of Misfit Toys.
Last year’s tree had been a beautiful Norwegian Spruce. Though its needles were sharp enough to pierce flesh, they were a handsome shade of dark green and filled our entire house with the smell of evergreens all month long. This year, we thought we’d try something new, so we wandered around in the Christmas forest with a fairly open mind. Rather than focus on one variety of tree, we wanted to consider each of the eight varieties.
It wasn’t long, of course, before opinions and expectations began to surface. Fullness. Shapeliness. Evenness. Color. Height. Christmas-yness. Wow-ness. We had to consider all of these factors as we narrowed our choices down to just a few trees. A very revealing moment came when we shook the blanket of snow from our three finalists. It’s amazing what imperfections a layer of snow can disguise!
Finally, after much deliberation, we selected this year’s honored house guest…
To our surprise it was the somewhat ubiquitous Scotch Pine that won us over, this year. He was a handsome tree of about 8 feet who was about 10-12 years old. James did the dirty work and I dutifully held the trunk of the tree and supervised his labors. Once we got the tree home, of course, the real ordeal began. Getting the tree in the stand and standing perfectly perpendicular to the floor was quite the challenge, this year. The trunk’s circumference was almost too much for the tree stand and we ended up needing to cut a foot off the trunk because it had grown crooked and was absolutely impossible to stand up straight. (Yes, there was shouting and gnashing of teeth. There was maybe even a little bit of festive, yuletide fire, brimstone, and swearing — swearing that this would surely be the last year we would be so foolhardy as to bring a member of the forest into our living room… but we overcame all of that.)
I have to admit that it’s a little sad to essentially kill a tree in order to celebrate Christmas. But — it’s not as though the farmer doesn’t replant his field. I soften my guilt by reminding myself that a cute little sapling will soon take this tree’s place. And, perhaps on some level, trees may see this destiny as an honor. If not, they certainly should.
It’s no coincidence that Christmas occurs in the darkest nights of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere). In these Midwestern winter days, when darkness falls by 4:30pm or earlier, it’s an assuring comfort to come in the front door and be greeted with twinkling lights, the emerald glow of evergreen, and that familiar smell of pine. Aside from the spiritual things these sensory things have to offer, it’s also a reminder that the cold and darkness will not last forever.
And so, the season is upon us. As we hurtle toward the solstice and the longest night of the year, we find ourselves hopelessly busy with holiday projects and traditions. Our kitchen and dining room becomes a veritable factory and assembly line for unthinkable combinations of chocolates, cookies, candies, and other such naughty goodies. And winter — with its darkness and staggering cold — has descended and brought with it memories and stories both happy and sad. The songs from the stereo and the smells wafting from the kitchen, each bringing the excitement of the present and the future, but — in that way that only this season can manage — also the sadness of times and loved ones that have gone.
My first wish of the season for you: May you know peace in a world which so often bombards us all with myriad distractions and empty obligations. Whether you celebrate it in the belief of a newborn saviour or simply as a time of family, tradition, and cheer, you have to admit that Christmas is a noble and impossibly brave effort. So, bravely and nobly venture forth. Find that peace, this winter and holiday season.
(Our beautiful tree was from the Ziegler Christmas Tree Farm in Elgin, IL. I apologize for my unplanned hiatus from this blog, recently. The busyness of the season coupled with unexpected loads of work at my “real job” came together with a surprising amount of force. I pledge to post at least once a week from this point forward. Happy Holidays to you all.)