I took down the tree yesterday, so now the Holiday Season is well and truly over. Unexpectedly, I found myself crying while tucking away ornaments and inadvertently hugging the tree while removing the lights. I always leave the lights plugged in until the very last moment… unwinding them from the top down, looping them under and around the remaining wires and branches.
This year, we brought home a Grand Fir instead of an Alpine Fir, breaking several years of tradition. Also known as “Sweet Pine” to the native people here, it’s a scrubby little tree with lots of open space between its thin branches. Since leaving my childhood home, it has always felt wrong to have any other kind of tree. Some families use sage, in their homes, for prayer and purification. We – I – use sweet pine.
As a child, we went out to the woods to cut our Christmas tree. It was important to find a tree that could be thinned from the forest – not taking the prettiest and the strongest – but one either crowded by or crowding out other trees. Taking that tree left the forest healthier, not weaker. After Christmas was over, our prayers were lifted the rest of the year by wafts of smoke from the same branches that were once laden with ornaments. The ashes were either spread in the garden or in the compost. So choosing a Christmas tree was always about so much more than just finding an evergreen for our living room.
I’ve never taken my boys out on a Christmas tree cutting expedition. Instead, each year, we patronize a local nursery. I buy flowers there in the spring and tomato starts when the heat starts sliding into summer. In the waning daylit hours of winter, as Solstice closes in, we return for a Christmas tree.
We had found a suitable Alpine Fir, wandering, as we always did, to the right side of the greenhouses, where enough trees stand up on end to muffle the sound of the cars. If you close your eyes you might imagine yourself in a fragrant forest, instead of a city lot. But then, as we also always do, we wandered around the rest of the nursery before finalizing the purchase… and that’s when I spotted the Grand Fir, tucked in behind two other trees.
Do Christmas trees wonder where they’ll end up when they’re first cut down in the forest? What do they think of the anxious families looking them up and down, searching for that one, seemingly perfect tree? When my husband stood the two – the Alpine and the Grand – next to each other, and I had to choose, did the Alpine wilt sadly as I yielded to a teasing scent, and thoughts of softer needles, and a call in my soul I only half understood?
Perhaps I’ve just read a little too much Hans Christian Anderson, although truthfully I’ve always done this… imbued “too much” feeling to objects others call completely inanimate.
So what then, after all that, do the trees think when they’re brought home and twined ‘round with sparkling lights and pretty painted baubles? Is there pride? Is there acceptance? Sadness – that they will never go home again? Or is it, truly, nothing?
All of these thoughts are in my head as I unhook the ornaments, fold them into rustling tissue paper, and send them to rest in darkness for another eleven months. The bright strings of lights come down, most of them coiled and wrapped in paper, the last still in my hands. The tree stands, at last, as bare as when we laughingly ushered it through the doorway.
Thank you, I whisper, and unplug the lights.