O Christmas Tree
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are no ugly Christmas trees.
From the smallest and spindliest to the soaring and shimmering trees set up in shopping malls; from the designer-label artificial trees with colour-coordinated lights that flash in sequence and sometimes in song; and to the natural evergreens, perhaps harvested too soon, that begin to shed their needles before you even get them home, every tree is, by definition, beautiful.
Because every tree is a symbol: of love, of family, of tradition, of faith, of belief in magic and wonder.
It is a strange, shared ritual, this business of lugging trees into our homes every December. The true origins of this holiday tradition have been lost in time: a quick perusal of Wikipedia – and everything on there MUST be true – suggests that the idea for the modern Christmas tree can be traced to the Renaissance, or Martin Luther in Germany, or to pre-Christian winter celebrations, or perhaps to the ancient Egyptians, or the Chinese.
In other words, no one knows why we do this. No one needs to know.
Everyone has a favourite tree story. I have several, though some are only fictional.
For more than twenty years now I have watched, at least once each season, the movie Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase and that woman whose name I can never remember. The Griswold family Christmas tree is a centrepiece to that story – from the opening scenes of the family’s drive out into the country to chop down their own tree (which must be uprooted because Dad forgot to bring an axe) to the cat that chews on a strand of lights and to cigar-smoking Uncle Leo who sets the whole thing on fire.
In my family we once had a Griswold-like tree. Back in the day, my parents patiently carted us five kids to the Boy Scout lot to help pick out the perfect tree. There was always much rowdy debate – each of the brothers putting forth his personal favourite only to be shouted down by the others.
One year we talked our dad into buying a monstrosity that we proudly hauled home on the roof of our own station wagon, the mini-vans of that bygone era. The tree was, of course, too tall for our living room; worse, when it finally thawed and the branches fully expanded, there was hardly space for anything else in the room.
We loved it; we were young enough to still believe that bigger is always better. We decked out the branches with ornaments, garlands and tinsel and went to bed.
In the middle of the night, there arose such a clatter that we sprang from our beds to see what was the matter. The jolly green giant had toppled over, nearly crushing the dog, and now stretched from the living room window almost to the dining room. After much laughter and discussion, Dad sleepily lashed the monster to the curtain rods with nylon ropes. For the rest of that holiday season, we lived in dread that the beast would come down on grandma’s head.
Every tree is different, and every one is special.
My personal favourites are those decorated by small children. I love the way the lower branches get jammed with ornaments, so that later, after the little ones are in bed, someone taller surreptitiously rearranges things a little so the top of the tree isn’t left out.
I also have a special place in my heart – which is not three sizes too small – for Charlie Brown’s forlorn little tree, and feel sad every year when the other kids are mean about his well-intended choice. After it is decorated, and Linus says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love,” I get choked up. Every time.
Because Linus is right. There’s no such thing as an ugly Christmas tree.