A Christmas Treehugger Says Farewell to a Friend

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree!

I have had many live Christmas trees in my day.  My family of origin always had a real one.  I don’t remember them all of course.  I actually only remember the Christmas tree-trim in aggregate–the rituals of hanging those big bulbs that were common in the 50s and 60s, big heavy colored globes that you would sometimes clip on to the branch and then monitor how far down the branch would droop with the weight.  You wouldn’t put the expensive bulbs on the weaker branches.

Conversely, I remember the light-as-air silvery strands that we would dress the tree with after all the ornaments were hung.  My mother instructed us to hang them almost singly and very carefully so you wouldn’t wind up with a clump of silver like a tacky bird’s nest perching on a branch.  No, the strands had to resemble as closely as possible their namesake:  icicles.   If they were done properly, the light from the big bulbs danced off them as if they were fine shimmery mirrors just like the frozen spears hanging off the eaves.

When we had done with all the magic of Christmas, the denuded, dry tree would be dragged out of the house and dumped on the curb, as usual.  But when I was a child, it  seemed as if a dear friend was being just kicked out on the street with no gratitude, no respect, no consideration for the joy it had given us.   I would cry to see my “friend” treated so cruelly.

Many, many trees are under the bridge in my life–58 to be exact.  So I don’t know why, this year, I feel like that little girl who once wanted to cling to the life of her tree-friend.

This year’s particular tree had a very unceremonious introduction to our family.  Even though my children are adults, we have stuck to the family tradition of picking out the tree together–all six of us, even though we are living in three different states.  But this year, it was almost Christmas Eve, everyone was busy, and so one night, my husband, brother-in-law and I just decided abruptly to stop off on the way from the supermarket and grab a tree.  No camera, no kids, no comparing this tree to that one to find the perfect fit, the perfect shape, the perfect height.  Pulling down our hats and wrapping our coats around us in the freezing cold, we did indeed “grab” a tree, tell the guy it was in no way worth the $45 he was charging and that we would pay no more than $33 for the shrimpy, sorry tree we were holding up.  He took our offer quickly–confirming our description of it, and we shoved it in the back of the car on top of the paper towels and dog food, and brought it to its new home.

When we fit it into the tree stand in the living room, my husband and I looked at each other with looks that said, “Oh, no.  The kids are going to kill us for not waiting for them.”  Because the tree looked like a scrawny little tree-weed standing there.  Not only that, but it had a physical deformity no tilting or turning was going to hide–the top of the tree, which should stretch joyfully to heaven like a yogi in triangle pose, was bent at the trunk, as if it changed its mind about wanting to point the way to God.

So, my son came the next night, and kindly didn’t chide us beyond a shake of his head and a few futile attempts to turn, tilt, reset the tree.  He helped me put the lights on.  We decided to put LOTS of lights on, to just smother the little tree in every string of lights I had.  We had to give this tree some panache, after all!

And, as was tradition, all the kids came on Christmas Eve and put the lifelong collection of ornaments on it.  I had rearranged the furniture differently this year–making the tree the focal point of the living room, and setting the love seat in a spot that make it seem like the tree was a orchestra quartet performing chamber music.  We gave it that import, that attention, that love.

And it rose to the occasion.  Every night, when I wanted peace and quiet, I’d take a cup of tea and my new Kindle into the living room and just sit.  But most of the time, I couldn’t get interested in the book, because I was mesmerized by the beauty of the tree.  For some reason, because the tree was not as plush on its own as most trees we’ve had, it showcased the ornaments like no other.  Each little memory of my family’s life–the first Christmas, the gifts from friends, the souvenirs from family vacations, were given their due, framed selflessly by the humble sprigs of the tree branches.  I had even filled in some of the balder spots with springs of berries, and they complimented the tree the same way my Gucci scarf deflects attention from my sagging neckline.   In any case, the tree and I had bonded.

Now it is January 17, and I’ve been resisting the dismantling of this tree for too long.  The neighbors’ trees have long been picked up by the trashmen.   Today is the day I must say good-bye to my tree.   After I’ve accepted it.  More than accepted it.  Embraced its imperfections.  Marveled at its transformation.

With gratitude for the beauty it has given the family this season, I will unceremoniously drag it out to the curb, and then sweep up the dead needles it leaves behind.   I may not cry the way I did when I was a child.  But I will be sad to see it go.