I am not a convert. Yet. But I confess to having taken meaningful steps away from my ancient iron-clad convictions.
The steps are, in fact, inevitable since they lead me from my dark, cramped basement office past the living room where my wife has set up, decorated and illuminated a beautiful Christmas tree. There I’ve said it. We have a beautiful Christmas tree in our house.
Not long ago — I’m talking, oh, last week — it would have been easier for Oliver Cromwell to beg the Pope’s blessing at Midnight Mass than for me to bring the words “beautiful,” “Christmas tree” and “our house” within a light year of each other.
I grew up loving Christmas. And loathing Christmas trees. Always hated them. Never could abide the wretched things. When I was about five, I got smacked across the face by an evil branch on some odious Yuletide sapling my father was bringing home. When I was about 25, I suffered agonizing frostbite on my ears one brutal December night in Edmonton after being forced outside to buy a ridiculous lump of pine.
Going bareheaded was my defiance of the whole reprehensible ritual of tree shopping. It was tactical defiance. My plan was to make it essential that we grab the first tannenbaum at hand, no matter how scrawny or mangled, and vamoose before my head froze. The glowing white circles of pain on both my ears gave proof how well that scheme worked.
Frankly, I would now rather go shoe shopping with a three-legged woman than endure the torments of touring the local Christmas tree lot. Indeed, the two adventures bear a remarkable resemblance. In both, everything must be circled, touched, inspected, hoisted and balanced, sized, deemed worthy and then suddenly and inexplicably unworthy, several times before grudging approval and final settlement are reached. For a dead strip of leather. Or a dead stretch of tree.
My wife, you’ll have guessed, buys our trees. That’s because she insists we have a tree. I go along — as long as I don’t have to have anything whatever to do with the thing itself.
I have never, Cromwell-like, tried to ban Christmas trees from our house just because someone else might enjoy them. I am not a Christmas tree dog in the manger. On the contrary, I once got a tiding of great joy from a Christmas tree when one of our three cats took a flying leap, put what looked like a professional wrestling hold on the angel at the top, and rode the whole collapsing mass down to the living room floor below. I still give that kitten extra supper just to say thanks for a job well done.
My opposition to Christmas trees is, in fact, rooted in cold logic. What, I have always asked, is the point of dragging a tree into the house just because it’s December? Do we carve up slabs of lawn and http://www.achaten-suisse.com/ slap them down on the kitchen floor because it’s April? Do we pile autumnal leaves over the flat-screen HDTV because it’s September? No. We do not. We leave outside what belongs outside. Right?
Yes. Except this year my wife lost her mother in January, her father in mid-November. Early in December, she brought home a box of decorations that had been on virtually every tree put up in her family’s house for the past 50 Christmases. Suddenly, the quintessential Santa that I would have scorned as emblematic of Christmas commercialization became a symbol of childhood magic and memory. Suddenly, the glittery guitar, violin and harp that I would once have derided as tchotchkes are all that is left of the music my father-in-law filled the house with each Christmas. The bright red and yellow glass balls for the tree branches went from baubles of banality to fragile reminders of loving hands that will lift and place them no more.
“The great light, of which the Christmas tree is a sign and a reminder, not only hasn’t dimmed with the passing of centuries and millennia, but continues to shine on us and enlighten each person who comes into this world, especially when we go through moments of uncertainty and difficulty,” Pope Benedict said last week at the lighting ceremony in St. Peter’s Square.
Beautiful words that are, I confess, entirely made manifest by our beautiful tree. I am not yet a convert, Holy Father. But give me a few more steps.
This blog entry also appears on the Catholic Register website www.catholicregister.org