Last night marked the official arrival of the Christmas season in our home. It came a little later than usual for us this year, due to an abnormally hectic work schedule. But we finally found the time to head to the tree lot at the elementary school near our house to pick out a Christmas tree. Usually we get a charmingly lopsided Charlie Brown-type model, but this year we were lucky enough to get a deal on a real classical beauty of a tree — a six-foot noble fir that looks like it might have come from the pages of a Victorian picture book. Later on, we had some friends over, built up a fire in the fireplace, put on some Frank Sinatra and some gospel music, set out a bowl of green olives, a thick wedge of Stilton cheese, poured some beverages (cranberry juice for the kids, red wine and Doppelbock Winter Ale for the more seasoned of us) and set about the serious work of getting tangled up in strings of lights and garlands of cranberry and popcorn.
As any good pagan knows, the doorway to spirituality is through the senses. For me, indulging those senses is what the Christmas season is all about. You can keep your trips to the shopping mall, your DVDs, and gift certificates. Give me, instead, the tastes and smells of roast turkey and mandarin oranges, the sound of children’s choirs, and above all the sights and scents of a fully lit and decorated Christmas tree. The wonderful smell is like having the corner of your living room become a doorway into a magical forest.
There are two schools, when it comes to tree decorating. There is the tasteful technique followed by my friend Linda, who makes her living as a graphic artist. Typically, you would find her tree decorated with such things as dried, long-stemmed red roses. On the other hand, I come from the equally valid decorating tradition of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” This approach was enthusiastically supported by my family and the friends who were able to come by. So, by the end of the evening, our tree was groaning under the weight of a lifetime’s worth of collected trinkets and merrily flashing lights (I admit it it’s the kind of lights that play Christmas carols). A true thing of beauty!
As many of us know, the tradition of the Christmas tree has its roots in ancient pagan times, when villagers would hang boughs of spruce and fir over their doorways, believing that the evergreens would ensure longevity and vitality, and keep evil forces away. It seems to me, as we try and forge a new and more positive consciousness in these dark days early in the new millennium, hopefully based on connection and joy rather than isolation and fear, the Christmas tree is an appropriate metaphor of hope.