Sunday, December 12, 2010

Decorating the Tree

We chose our Christmas tree at Wilson Farm yesterday. It was the very first one that caught our eye, and we looked no further — a dangerous business, since we once returned a Christmas tree to Wilson Farm. But that tree was purchased in the dark, in pouring rain, whereas this year's tree was viewable in broad daylight.

Tree shopping has always been fraught for me, so the act of choosing the very first tree we examine always strikes me as a Christmas miracle. When I was a kid, my dad and I spent days every December driving around to tree lots and farms, searching for a perfect 7-footer, — exactly as high as my dad's raised arm. I was ridiculously fussy, I admit it. But he could be even worse, rejecting whatever tree I was finally willing to settle for because we were freezing and frustrated. We'd go out after school, after supper, and all day on weekends. We always found a lovely Douglas fir, eventually. And we got to see a lot of Pennsylvania countryside in the meantime.

These days, trees are carefully pruned as they grow, so each has a reasonably nice shape. It takes a lot of fun out of the hunt but it beats searching through scores of goofy-looking trees. It's been at least 15 years since my dad bought a tree, and he never travels to Boston to visit me, so I always have to remind him about new developments in Christmas tree farming — otherwise, he'll go ballistic when I tell him we looked at exactly one tree and bought it. He will assume that my standards have sunk into the gutter and my tree is a joke. He'll wonder aloud if I'm really his daughter. I must insist to him that our tree easily met all of our requirements: balsam fir, about 9 feet tall, slender, perfectly shaped, fresh, fragrant, nice top, straight trunk. They all look that way nowadays.

And we really didn't get a dud this time:

The tree is tied to the window frame and securely anchored in our super-sturdy "mother of all tree stands," as my husband calls it. The cats have shown very little interest so far. Snalbert insists on nibbling the lower branches and throws up pine needles for days. It's a holiday tradition around here, as is wondering why he's so weird.  Here he is, recuperating on top of some bentwood chairs we moved so we could decorate:

Possum and Wendy, still kittenish at 18 months, are only mildly interested in the tree. I suppose they are trying to give us a false sense of security before they destroy it. So far, they have only batted off one ornament, a wood and fabric doll they liked to attack last year, too. We often found her lying face down in crime-scene fashion.

Isn't it nice that cats come with their own Christmas lights? No decorating required.

A few years ago, I got tired of vacillating between colored and white lights and started using both. Most of our lights are white, but there are a few colored strings behind them, closer to the trunk. The effect is subtle but satisfying.

As always, I used far too many ornaments this year, even though I left dozens of them in their boxes. As I always say, "Moderation in all things — including moderation." What's the point of a lot of bare branches?

What's the point of a Christmas tree at all? I ask myself this each year as I put hundreds of ornaments all over mine. Why do we drag large conifers into our homes and stick stuff on them? What does this pagan object have to do with the birth of Christ, which we are all supposedly celebrating? Aside from its being a tradition, what deeper cultural meaning does it have for 21st-century Americans? (And why did I take Psychological Anthropology in college? It permanently messed up holiday rituals for me.) I know the history of Christmas trees and how they evolved through the ages after ancient cultures began decorating with evergreen boughs around the Solstice, blah, blah, blah.  But it's still a very odd thing to have in your house. The people who hang their trees upside down, from the ceiling, are simply taking this to the logical extreme.

But as I look at mine, I feel how strangely beautiful it is, twinkling, sparkling, mesmerizing me with all its crazy ornaments. And it just makes me happy. And that must be the point. It's enough.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I had clicked the tree pic to make it bigger because I liked how all the ornaments look. It somehow looks delightfully like an abundance of joy, which really is what Christmas should feel like, yes?


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