I have a little “bah humbug” to purge. I need to stick a finger down my psyche and get it all out of my system.
You’ll hold back my hair, won’t you?
It’s all that hoopla surrounding the lighting of the Christmas tree in New York City. Apparently, because they say so (please refer to my column logo for correction), by default, this is America’s Christmas tree and, therefore, everyone’s supposed to get all excited about the fuss, complete with serenades from Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart.
Two things. First off, unless you were there at Rock Center, you watched all the falderal on television, if you watched at all. Me, I don’t see the attraction in watching other people having fun when I can’t participate. (Which is why I don’t care for porn.) Watching New York’s Christmas tree extravaganza makes me feel like a hungry Victorian orphan, wandering the streets and wiping a window with my ratty sleeve so I can look at all the warm, pretty people inside. I don’t need another prompt to feel pathetic. All I have to do is look at my paycheck.
Secondly, this tradition of searching the country for a grand, stately evergreen just to hack down, prop up at Rock Center, cover in tinsel and then send to the wood-chipper borders on the obscene.
A morning news story on the tree’s history revealed that the 80-foot Norway spruce was growing in a New Jersey woman’s yard. Hurricane Sandy uprooted several of her large trees, but this spruce stood fast. The irony pinches. This tree was so healthy, so hardy, so vigorous that not even the storm of the century could take it down.
But we could.
Our insouciance makes me ill.
Trees are living things. They have a life force, which is why they stretch to the sun. They’re crucial to our very existence, refreshing our carbon dioxide back into oxygen. If you can breathe air right now, thank a tree. Just because they don’t bleed or scream when we kill them doesn’t mean there isn’t some anguish when their life force is severed.
Go out into the woods sometime, and be still among the trees. Notice how you start feeling calmer. More grounded. You may discover that you’ve needed a long, slow exhale for quite a while. That serenity you feel, there amongst the trees, is their energy. It’s precious. And rather than honor and cherish it, as our wise pagan ancestors did, we just nonchalantly lop it off to hold up our Christmas lights.
Enter my own hypocrisy: Despite my disgust at chopping down that mighty tree, I’ll have a fresh Christmas tree in my living room this year, just like always. I realize it was once just as alive as that Rock Center tree, but for some reason it seems more acceptable knowing it came from a farm where it was grown specifically for harvesting.
Enter convolution: I feel just the opposite about eating meat. Having embraced my inner carnivore, I’ve come to the conclusion that hunting your own meat (deer, elk, pheasant, etc.) is a far more honorable practice than consuming animals mass-raised for slaughter. So, have I learned to hunt? No. I’m not sure I could ever kill anything. (See how convoluted the hypocrisy gets?) As a compromise, I purchase free-range, wild or grass fed meat whenever possible. That’ll have to do until I can look at Bambi through crosshairs and pull the trigger.
So not there yet.
Dude. I’m still upset about that tree.
So yes, I’ll have a fresh Christmas tree as part of my holiday celebrations, but I’ll honor the tree as more than just a disposable decoration. I’ll thank the tree for its sacrifice when I put it up — a nod to the origins of why we bring evergreen trees into our homes at this time of year in the first place.
(Spoiler alert: It has nothing to do with Jesus.)
Centuries before Jesus ever rattled the populace and challenged people to think, the ancient Romans celebrated the longest day of the year, Winter Solstice, with the festival of Saturnalia, which included the sacrifice of one fine, strapping young man, who was spoiled and worshipped for days, and then offed to honor the Roman god Saturn.
Over time, the human sacrifice morphed into the much gentler tree sacrifice. A tall, majestic, handsome tree was brought indoors near the time of the Winter Solstice, and decorated and lit with candles. Along with holly and mistletoe, the tree was part of the pagan celebration of Yule. The lighting of the Yule log on the Winter Solstice symbolizes the return of the sun, longer days, and continuing life. Yule, like each of the other pagan sabbats, is an affirmation of trust in the turning of the seasonal wheel.
And you thought Jesus was the reason for the season. Nice try, Church.
How did Jesus’ birth get all wrapped up in this, anyway? It began as a concerted effort by the Roman Empire and the Church in the Fourth Century to control the largely pagan populace by placing Christian templates over their celebrations and thereby obliterating them. And killing anyone who resisted. (Eh, eh! No objections until you’ve researched Constantine the Great.)
In the end, despite the best efforts of the Church over the centuries (research “Inquisition” too, while you’re at it), the customs of the Old Ones survived, as evidenced by the worshipping of an 80-foot Norway spruce glittering at Rock Center as we speak.
So, does that mean I refuse to sing “Silent Night” on principle? Oh heck no. I love that song. I love Jesus, too. I just don’t love what his followers have done for the last 1,600 years. Jesus is still the greatest teacher of all time. But he’s not the reason for the season. He’s just not. Even so, I can celebrate his life along with the turning of the seasonal wheel. Convoluted hypocrisy nothwithstanding.
— Email Debra at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com