Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I'm Keeping It


Looking at the picture I just plugged in here, I realize "it" is open to multiple interpretations. Just to be clear, "it" in the title refers to the Christmas tree--though, in case you read it a different way, I'm definitely hanging onto this woman! In fact...no, wait, I'll save that for a different post, and leave you hanging.

Back to the it I'm keeping: this series (sporadically hash-tagged "Christmas Curmudgeon") has been about my complaints about the Season of Super Awesome Excess, and all that I have come to have against it: wacky theology, abusive customs, insanely hypocritically oxymoronic mixed messages, and so and so and so on. One could justifiably imagine, given all I've ranted about and will rant about in the coming weeks, that I would have an objection to the iconic Christmas tree.

And one would be wrong, for of all the plethora of symbolic doo dads and what nots that are essential to the Christmas holiday season, the tree is the one I just can't let go.

I've always loved Christmas trees, going back to my first memories of the holiday. I love the smell of them, the diversity-affirming twinkle of their many-colored lights (the one year I opted for a white tree, I wound up feeling unfulfilled), the personalized ornaments that make each tree special to the family that decorates it. I love the presence of an evergreen in my home during the darkest season of the year, reminding me that death never has the final word--and now, the irony of cutting down a tree to symbolize new life is not lost on me. It adds a poignancy to the custom, in the same way that I believe one should honor the animal lives we sacrifice to feed our bellies. And I love the star (not an angel!) that sits atop my tree, a beacon of hope that a new day is coming.

As a child, I believed the tree was most beautiful on Christmas morning, when heaps of brightly wrapped packages hid its lower branches, and sometimes even more treasures could be found hanging higher up. Over time, though, I learned that, for the most part, these gifts were bound to disappoint. Occasionally there'd be something that I would hold onto for years, delighting in what an excellent gift it was, but for the most part, I quickly forgot Christmas presents, and never found them as satisfying unwrapped as when they were still behind that lovely paper.

As I lost interest in gifts, I came to appreciate the tree for its own beauty. I hated taking it down: every morning, I could come out to my winter-darkened living room and bask in the rainbow of colored lights, delight in the ornaments, feel warmed by memories of the season now fading from memory. Eventually, of course, it had to come down: keeping a dead tree in one's house, especially at a time of year when central heating lowers that house's humidity, is asking to be on the evening news. With nostalgic regret, I will pack away the ornaments on my tree sometime in January, thank it for the lovely time I've had with it, and stuff it in the lawn debris bin.

I've had trees most Christmases. Exceptions have been the years I lived in the Peace House, which, during the holiday season, is kind of like living inside a gigantic Christmas tree anyway, so I didn't miss it so much; and the first two years I lived with Amy, out of respect for her discomfort with Christian symbols, especially those coming from Teutonic traditions. Last year, though, we were finally in a house that was ours (as opposed to hers), and she generously offered to let me have a tree. I took a picture of her with it, looking frightened. This year I took another picture: she no longer fears it will eat her, but she's aware that this year's tree is bigger than last year's, and she may be thinking of drawing a line in the tinsel.

This tree is actually larger than I had intended. I always loved the way Charlie Brown picked a scrawny twig of a tree to fend off the creeping artificiality of the season, and while the trees I opt for are still attractive, they're also smaller than the average behemoth one glimpses through living room windows. Of course, choosing a smaller tree means a good portion of my Christmas memorabilia stays in the box: even with this six-footer, I had to repack quite a few things this year. It's the accumulation of a lifetime, and every year a new piece or two shows up, so naturally I'm having to be selective. Except for some colored balls, nothing goes up unless it's got a story.

And that, above all else, is why I'm keeping a tree in my Christmas practice: every year, I put together a fragrant scrapbook of my life. There are ornaments on my tree that go back to my first days as an adult, ornaments that remind me of the good times in both my failed marriages, ornaments that symbolize my children, ornaments given to me by members of churches I served, ornaments handed down to me from my grandparents; and now, three ornaments given to me by Amy and Sarah, all symbolic of the outdoor activities we love. I could tell you a story for everything on that tree.

But I won't. Instead, I'm just going to celebrate the presence of lovely, aromatic life and brilliant light in my home.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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