Faithful Leaves Unchanging

Holidailies 2004January 5, 2005


Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, with faithful leaves unchanging.
Each year you bring to me delight, meaning in the Christmas night,
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, with faithful leaves unchanging.
  — Ernst Anschütz, 1780-1861
      German poet and composer

I had a better day today. I even concluded that I am probably not depressed, just sick. Some kind of head cold is pushing at my skull, trying to bloom into full-blown symptoms. I pushed fluids, took echinacea and zinc tablets, and rested. I did not finish the database or print the address labels for my letter, I did not write the brief notes that some of the letters will require, and I did not do anything more to put away Christmas. Tomorrow is Epiphany and I wanted just one thing left to do — take down the tree.

People who put up Christmas trees come in two classes: real tree and fake tree people. The fake tree people can be further divided into two classes: simulated real and frankly false. We’re in the simulated real category.

When I was growing up we always had a real tree, at least until I was sixteen and we lived in a new house with thick carpet and flocked wallpaper that my mother said would get ruined if it got sap on it. We had a big box of ornaments in the basement, balls in all colors and sizes, lights that flashed and bubbled, and a glorious angel for the top. The figure’s gown was a cylinder that fit over the central branch. Her arms were outspread and held a banner that read Gloria in excelsis Deo. I envied the silvery hair that framed her face like a halo and cascaded down her back. But my sister and I were never allowed to touch her. My father said her hair was made of spun glass and would scratch us.

My friend Dennee, who lived across the street, was allergic to real trees so they had a fake tree, a frankly false one of silver foil, perfectly shaped and hung with identical balls all the same color. Dennee’s mother was something of a Martha Stewart, a remark I make with great affection. Whereas our house was furnished — you had a place to sit and place to hang things up and place to put things down — Dennee’s house was decorated. The furniture was placed just so and her bedroom was even painted according to what were probably the feng shui ideas of the 1960s — green and gray because it faced southeast.

In my own practice I’ve tried to more like Dennee’s mother than mine in having an intentional plan for the decoration of my house. But when it came to Christmas trees, I remained a traditionalist. The first two Christmases that my first husband and I lived here we had real trees that were not cut but were balled in burlap for subsequent planting on the property. This makes for a short but well-shaped tree that is hard to stand upright, since the root ball is rarely symmetrical. The second one died but the first one remains at the side of the house, now jutting above the roofline about five feet. When my parents moved to Florida they gave us their fake tree, which we put up once or twice before we lost interest in Christmas and each other.

Ron and I had a real tree our first year together. Or rather, I wanted a real tree and Ron acquiesced. I remember the struggle to haul it into the house, get it to stand upright, and turn it so its best side faced out. The next year I bowed to his wishes and we got a fake tree, simulated real but, in my opinion, not especially pretty. (The central branch looks like a bottle brush.)

Having a fake tree makes some things easier. It doesn’t shed needles or present a fire hazard or need to be watered. (Lynn’s boyfriend’s family was awakened about a week after the placement of their nine-foot spruce when it fell over with a thud. Evidently it had dried out some and the trunk had constricted, shifting its center of gravity.) Because a fake tree’s faithful leaves are unchanging, you can pretty much ignore it. When I broke my leg on the Feast of Stephen in 1995 the tree was still up in February, and it wasn’t until the kids had a snow day off school that we managed to get it put away.

Tomorrow is Epiphany, the traditional last day of Christmas. I might not have everything done for putting away and moving on, but I want the tree back in its box.