Tuesday, December 10, 2013


We put up our Christmas tree on Saturday. We bought it the same place as last year and the year before, from the people who set up in front of the C-Town on Broadway and 207th Street. I don’t think it’s the same man every year but it’s always a sort of woodsy-looking young guy with a beard. This time there was also a very sturdy woman and a teenager who was cutting and wrapping the trees. I always imagine them having a little farm somewhere in the mountains where they live in a cabin heated by a woodstove and churn their own butter.

My job the last 2 years has been to talk C down from getting the biggest tree on the lot -- yes, it’s a beautiful tree but our ceilings are only 9 feet tall -- but I don’t love being the Scrooge in the family and this year I just wanted him to have the tree that made him happy, even if it takes up half the living room.

We both fell in love with the first tree we saw, some kind of fancy fragrant breed, very full foliage, blueish. The bearded man warned us that it was heavy because the trunk was thick, but we were unfazed. It was heavy (our shoulders are still sore) but we got it home. What we didn’t consider though was the width of the stand. It didn’t fit.

We went to Target to look for a bigger stand. On one hand, a trip to Target is not such an ordeal for us -- it’s a 10 minute walk across the bridge to the Bronx. On the other hand, it’s December and what is the last place on earth you would want to be on a weekend afternoon in December? Okay, Walmart. But second to last?

They didn’t have a bigger stand at Target. So we bought a saw. I won’t re-litigate the saw choice here because we’ve moved on, but the only saw they had was a hacksaw, which is not the saw I would choose for sawing through a tree trunk. It took a while, but we cut the tree down to size, and now it’s up and decorated and beautiful, and that’s what counts.

But I was actually grateful for the unexpected trip to Target, feeling myself become more and more tightly wound as we walked through the store -- a perfect distillation of everything I hate about this season: piles of useless crap, parents growling at their kids, bright lights, terrible music, and everyone bleating “Merry Christmas!” -- grateful because I could see the whole pile of shit apart from what I love about this season.

I came across an article the other day about Fox News’s “war on Christmas” nonsense and how they miss the point (at least they’re consistent) because the weeks leading up to Christmas are not, for traditional Christians, about celebrating or even really about Christmas at all, but about Advent, which is a season of waiting and reflecting, a season of gathering darkness, fear, dread, and, ultimately, hope. There’s nothing merry about it. And then Christmas starts on December 25th with the celebration of the birth of Christ -- the embodiment of all our hopes, for a better world, for love, for peace, for light, for a new chance -- and continues for 12 days. That's when we celebrate, lords a-leaping, etc.

We should spend December taking stock (you know when you've been good or bad, you don't need a pathologically cheerful fat man to tell you), setting intentions, imagining a better world. Not yelling at people in parking lots and maxing out our credit cards. That’s what I think, anyway.

That said, the real work for me is in separating the ritual of gift-giving -- one of my favorite things about Christmas: the shopping, wrapping, giving, waiting, opening -- from the mindless consumer frenzy. They are so tightly woven together. We live in a world where it’s impossible to engage with the culture and not perpetuate its ugliest aspects. So, that’s a project…

Putting aside the Fox News idiocy (which, you know, what else really can you do with it?) and the fact that we know all this already, the article jogged my brain and gave me a path back to how I used to enjoy the season as a time of uncertainty, anticipation, and hope.

Not to mention that I’d much rather listen to this

than Rudolph and Frosty and Jingle Bells and all that shrieking silliness any day.

It does seem a little odd to me sometimes that I love this music so much, the more solemn, the more religious, the better. I am of course not Christian, but isn’t the beautiful story of the miraculous birth of Christ come to save us from ourselves (at least partly) just another iteration of the same old story of birth from death, light out of darkness? It’s only unique in its details. This story works for me because it’s embedded somewhere in me deeper than belief. My parents didn’t believe it either, but marking the end of darkness and the beginning of light doesn’t require belief. It happens every year no matter what you believe.

No comments: