Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Christmas Tree

You know it when you see it. It has to be symmetrical and nicely dense but with enough gaps in which to hang things. It has to reach the ceiling which, depending on the house, means it's going to be broad. It has to be a pinus radiata, otherwise it won't smell right. All the really good ones have been taken days ago by the people who put them up way too early, but our tree will be there, somewhere amongst all those misshapen or badly coloured pines; we just need to keep looking.
Who knows why we have Christmas trees? Pagans used to put evergreen branches into their homes during the Saturnalia, but the first record of a Christmas tree  as we would recognise one, is from France in 1576, which means there is about a thousand years gap between its appearance and the last popular practice of the Saturnalia - which seems a pretty big chasm to jump. More likely precedences are the Adam trees which were used in medieval passion plays, decorated with apples (for the Eden story) and round wafers (for the Eucharist). Christmas trees were commonly used in the 19th Century in Germany, and later in England, when they were brought there by Prince Albert. Whatever their origin they are now a universal symbol of Christmas and Christmas has a cultural power far broader than its historical and spiritual one.
Our entire adult life, Clemency and me, has been based around the needs of the Anglican Church. Our children grew up in a home in which there were always strangers popping in for a meal or to sleep in the spare room. We never had weekends, Easter was busy, and public holidays tended to fall on Monday, which was my day off anyway, so we never really had those either. All year and every year was filled with people, and meetings and more people, which brought huge benefit to our children, but there was a cost, too, so Christmas was special. It was OUR time. Once the final service was done and dusted on Christmas morning the only way anyone gained admittance to our house was by having the appropriate DNA. We are both from largish families, so this restriction didn't stop our house being pretty full most years, but we did guard this one day of the year, and the camping holiday which invariably followed it, with jealous rigour. And this is what we celebrated with the tree. This is why we had one.
There's a ritual to be observed. Getting it off the trailer and squaring the end. Screwing on the stand we bought in Hamilton in, when? 1986? Siting it. Securing it with guy wires. Putting a mixture of water and sugar and (who knows why?) aspirin in the bowl in which its sawn trunk truncates. Then lights, as many as possible without being gaudy, and spread though the tree carefully patterned so that they are reminiscent of the stars. A rope of tinsel spiralling right around it so that there are reflections from deep in the tree and from every angle. The dozen or so jute angels which have been on every one of our Christmas trees since they were bought from the Fair Trade shop as Sunday School presents in 1979. Then the decorations, carefully packed last year, each one with its own history and mana: The Pinocchio bought in Italy and the  hand sewn one with all of our names embroidered, except Catherine's who wasn't born when it was given; the sparkle bears; the astroturf teddy; a Santa knitted by some distant relative and another with a body made from a Marmite jar (yes really. But why? Who knows? Who cares?); the long thin drummer boy and the angels with real feathers; all the others. Then, finally, the standing back and the proclamation that this is, without a doubt, the best one yet.
We had a leisurely day off. Sitting in Starbucks while we waited for Briscoes to open, we agreed that it was unnecessary to have a tree this year, as there was only the two of us at home and we would no sooner go to the trouble of getting the darned thing up when we would be off to Christchurch. We agreed though, that we might go to a nursery and buy a little one in a pot, a sort of token effort especially for Catherine, when she comes home between Christmas and New Year. We went to a nursery and looked at a couple of spruces and agreed that, though expensive, they were quite pretty. We thought we'd decide later in the day, but on the way home the car just happened past the place in High Street which sells Christmas trees. We stopped and bought one. Just a little one, a mere 7 ft or so. It's standing brightly in the corner, right now. I think it may be our best one yet.


Merv said...


Alden Smith said...

Merry Christmas and a very happy and prosperous new year to you and yours - Alden