Sunday, December 16, 2018

putting the ‘tree’ back in christmas

For the first time in years and years, I have a Christmas tree in the house, a legitimate tree standing tall in the corner of what could be the dining room if I ever actually dined which I don’t, I just kind of eat, but that aside, there the tree is in the dining room peeking into the living room through the archway all decked out, aglow with tiny lights, a perfectly shaped tree, a balsam fir bought at the farmers market, thirty bucks and tied atop the car, brought home, I had to go out and buy a stand but everything else just came up out of the basement and out of these boxes I’ve had for years and years.

My sister took this picture. I cropped it so I am not in it, only Josie and the tree.

Luckily one of my sisters was visiting so I had help stringing lights, hanging ornaments. Her visit also meant a lot of new house stuff got done like painting some walls, hanging some pictures, fixing the doorbell. We got pumpkin shakes at Beef-A-Roo and went to Tuba Christmas. We didn’t get to Ex-Voto, an exhibit by ceramicist Scott Leipski, but somehow the ornaments on my Christmas tree kept reminding me that this exhibit was out there, still going, so late this week I went over to the library and down the stairs to the renovated lower level where Ex-Voto is on display.

Ex-Voto by Scott Leipski.

As you can see, it is rows of clay tiles, each tile with a hand stretching out, holding an object: a figurine, an iron, a fish, a whatnot.


Here’s an explanation from a sign on the wall:
An ex-voto is a votive or offering. Each offering in this series is meant to remind viewers of the sweetness of youth …
Colors may run, the sign says, like memories.


I like this idea of offerings. Back home I see a tree full of offerings.

Ye Olde One-eared Christmas Mouse From Sweet Days Gone By.

The Head Of An Old Pez Candy Dispenser From Too Long Ago.

Now killing a tree and dressing it up, waxing poetic about it, all to celebrate life and its offerings, seems slightly ironic, so eminently human. As I was told, my tree grew up just a bit south of here, not far from Lake Michigan (near Gladstone, where, coincidentally, Leipski resides), and no doubt my tree had some pretty good years and now gets to participate in a celebration of sorts, but there is no denying that its future is no greater than that of being thrown on a heap of other dead trees, left to rot; or being fed to a wood chipper, spread around; or maybe being stuck out in the yard festooned with bread crumbs and crackers for gluttonous birds and squirrels to peck at and quarrel over. All in its sweet youth.

An online search of “history of christmas tree” leads to a lot of reading (some select links below), but I find no definitive story of why we have decorated trees in our homes in December. Rather, I find many stories, varied stories, kind of growing and everchanging stories, like the limbs of a tree intertwining, the stories, the traditions, they all start somewhere, with a seed, of course, and growing up my family always had a tree decorated much like the one I have now so now I have a tree decorated like the trees we had then.

My favorite snippet from the online search is from History.com.
But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.
Well thank goodness for immigrants. Just imagine how pinched and sour we all would be with only New England Puritans for ancestors.

My parents rued the day these ornaments that stick out their tongues entered their childrens’ lives. Well, maybe. After all, seems to me they brought them home.

Some sites give sole credit to the Germans for getting the Christmas tree established in America, while others suggest various other ideas, including the influence of an 1848 engraving of Queen Victoria and family gathered around a brightly lit tree (brightly lit with candles, no less) that appeared in a London paper and got picked up by others, spreading like a clever tweet. Apparently by this time Americans were through with rebelling against the Crown; rather, hey, if the Queen is doing it, so must we! Bring on the trees!

What I do not understand is how all Christmas trees, lit with these candles, did not go up in flames and burn houses down. That might have put an end to the frivolity.

So. Anyway. In my Christmas, the tree is back.

Trees should be full of birds, old and new.

My tree drinks a lot of water, and, like life, has a lot to offer.

🎄

whychristmas.com explains trees
christianitytoday.com explains trees
britannica.com explains trees