Not a Season, but a Feeling | Daily News

Not a Season, but a Feeling

Look out of the window and see how the sky has wrapped himself in a gloomy blanket of clouds, inviting you to do the same. The gloomy weather outside is balm to lazy souls; snuggled under a blanket, sipping cups of hot plain tea, watching over and over again, Maria falling in love with Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.” The hills are alive with the sound of music! (Or rather, the radio channels with the sound of George Michael singing “Last Christmas, I gave you my heart...”. It is so very sad to think he is no more)

It is that time of the year again. (Sigh. Sigh). Time for my yearly assignment on Christmas trees. Complaints of writer's block fall on deaf ears. My best excuse “I have nothing new to say” is brushed aside with a gentle suggestion “That's a good opening line. You know you can do it”. You think so? “I KNOW so”! More sighs. Oh, the things one would do in this season of love.

Help comes from an unexpected source. The Christmas tree itself. Standing there, in the corner of the sitting room. Alive. Breathing. Watching. And finally talking.

“You want to write about my story?.” “No” I tell him. Everyone already knows your story. It began in Germany almost 1,000 years ago when St Boniface, who converted the German people to Christianity, was said to have come across a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree. In anger, St Boniface cut down the oak tree and to his amazement a young fir tree sprung up from the roots of the oak tree. St Boniface took this as a sign of the Christian faith. But it was not until the 16th century that fir trees were brought indoors at Christmas time.

“But there is more to the story of Christmas trees.” Insists my tree. Read Penne Restad's book on Christmas trees called "Christmas in America" to find out more about how Christmas is celebrated today.” I follow his advice and surf the net in search of the book. Yes, Penne Restad, a University of Texas historian, has much to say about the role of the Christmas tree in the modern world. As she sees it, the Christmas tree is the focal point of a celebration that honors families and the home, separate from the religious holiday on the same date.

"The Christmas tree has become a physical center of the holiday," says Prof. Restad. "You walk into a house, see a Christmas tree and know that is where everything will happen, where everyone will be. It's the heart of the familial celebration of Christmas that may have no connection to the religious celebration."

I read the words out loud to my Christmas tree realizing the truth behind her observation, for here I am, a non-Christian (and I know there are many others like me) with Christmas trees in our sitting rooms right this minute. This is why, the tree, decorated in millions of different homes every year all over the world can be seen as “a unifying thread” explains Prof.Restad. “We're all doing the same thing but we're doing it in our own, personal way.”

The one in my sitting room, who has suddenly turned into my guru on Christmas trees appears to be a stickler for perfection. He offers more advice. “Why don't you read the article written by Prof.David McGrath about Christmas trees for the Los Angeles Times, last Christmas?” Tired of being so obedient, I decide to postpone my search and check my email inbox instead. But the transformation in my tree is too hard to ignore. The leaves begin to droop reminding me of Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Ok. I mutter under my breath and search for Prof. McGrath's article. It turns out he is a father who wants to offer his daughter Janet, many arguments against the wasteful practice of buying a real Christmas tree. He confesses he had had the same argument with his wife for thirty years. “Real ones had always been important to her — the annual pilgrimage to the tree lot on a chilly night, the scent of pine, keepsake ornaments. For me, it is a mess of trouble for something you discard after two weeks, not to mention $50 that would be better put toward gifts or charity.

At least, that is been my losing argument going on 30 years.” He wonders why Janet and her husband Kevin should launch their own 30 years of wasteful practice and hopes Kevin might be allergic to the pungent smell of pine leaves and not buy a real tree. But when his daughter telephones to ask him, from 1,500 miles away what kind of tree they should buy he gives in, forgets all his arguments and suggests she buy a "Uh, probably balsam fir. They last the longest."

I decide to write to Prof. McGrath, though I am sure he would not want to answer the questions of a strange, foreign journalist sent in an email, even in this season of giving. To my surprise I receive a response.

“Since my Times piece, there has been more research and debate about the tradition of real tree vs. artificial, much of which shows that buying real trees is better for the environment than buying "artificials," because of the global/chemical benefits of tree farms.” Prof. McGrath tells me.

“What I found with both my wife and daughter, is that the proverbial family heart trumps such practical concerns.” Prof. McGrath thinks that what is vital is that, “It does not have to be a tree, per se: any talisman or symbol that serves to perpetuate the idea and feeling (love) of family, even when far from home, or when members are absent, is what's vital. It could be a tree or a music box or a dish or a photo or a song. For my wife and children, it's the tree, and any pragmatic objections that I have are dwarfed by the primacy of family.” Perhaps imagining the fellow Christmas trees standing in the houses of Prof. McGrath and his daughter Janet right this minute, my tree too cheers up.

And I realize how attractive he is, even though till now I had only noticed the gaps between the branches on his left side, and that he was stooping too much to the right. Looking at him now, from this particular angle, in the glow from the monitor of my computer I realize he is as handsome as...well...Captain von Trapp! Now that my tree has come alive writing about Christmas trees no longer seems a drudge. I will do it again next year too. Till then, wish you a merry Christmas. May you keep your Christmas-heart open throughout the New Year.



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