Thursday, January 8, 2009

O Christmas Tree, how lovely are Thy branches!

My to-do list this week included “disassemble the tree.” That was never on the post-Christmas instructions in my childhood home. I grew up in an era of real trees, the kind the whole family could argue over.

My mother’s favorite was Scotch pine. It was a densely-branched long-needled tree. I don’t remember ever going to cut one down: that cultivar must not have grown in the regions where we lived. But I do remember the fussing and cussing and stay-out-of-the-way straining as my father put it up, trying to get it straight in the dysfunctional stand, tying it in place to the walls with nearly-invisible fishing line. More than once, one of us didn't see it and nearly strung ourselves up. Yes, that really set the holiday mood!

Christmas tree hunting with my own children was a much more pleasant experience. We went to the farms, little red saw in hand, and searched acres of rows of fragrant white pines for the perfect One. Sometimes we found a bird’s nest inside, with or without tiny empty half-shells. Those were my favorites.

It was not until I remarried in my mid-thirties that I ever had a fake tree: a “symbol of a symbol”, as I called it.

A Christmas tree symbolizes Christ, from the cross (also called a tree) He was nailed upon to the sacrifice of life it represents. How could an artificial tree embody sacrifice?

I surrendered my real tree because my stepson was allergic to the real thing. At that time, my aunt was getting rid of her old-model artificial in favor of the latest, greatest trend: pre-lit trees! I accepted the 1980s-era cast-off. It is the one I disassembled yet again two days ago. My stepson and all the other children are now grown and gone. The tree, ironically, “lives” on.

In its absence, the corner of the dining room looked absolutely bare and forlorn and yes, dead. I have remedied that situation by replacing it with a live tree! It is not a pine, but a seven-foot ficus, the lovely weeping fig that was becoming cramped in my sunroom.

Throughout the branches I have draped string of twinkle lights. Just now, I have become aware that I can see them reflected on the computer screen. Jesus looks down from the picture on the bookshelf to my right. My verse-a-day desk calendar stands to my left. My to-do list just faded away, supplanted by an urging: be still and know. Soak. Worship.

Even in January, Christmas is here. Christ is here