Our wild, spindly tree is glowing with tiny yellow lights. The branches are random lengths, no tree farmer ever pruned its shape, and I would never have any other kind of tree.
After we cut this ungroomed tree for the house we cut a few more to set by the deck and behind the bonfire pit. They are not artificial; they are real trees, and stand proudly in the snow as though they have been here all their lives. But they have no roots. Only we know they are fakes. Anyone visiting our house in winter would see our lovely balsam firs and unless they had been here in the summer would never doubt that these trees are growing here.
Some get draped in lights, others are just covered with snow, but the evergreens add a closeness and Christmassy feel to our backyard, which, while wooded and lovely, is large scale with majestic white pines, red maples, and ash. Propping our little forest of fir around the terrace where we have bonfires all winter creates an intimate circle.
We cut our trees from a friend’s wood lot, where thinning is beneficial to the trees we leave behind. We never know till we get home which will be the indoor tree. Whichever one we choose, once it is in the stand I always say it is too perfect, and it is. A transformation turns this scrawny, sometimes one-sided tree into a dazzling, larger than life vision with a history dating back hundreds of years, far longer than its life rings. It assumes a regal presence, overtaking our living space, calmly reminding us of Christmases past and future, and that we, like the tree, are only here for a short span of time, but what a glorious span.
This tree is completely glammed with dozens of chandelier crystals from my mother. There are oyster, clam and mussel shells from dimly remembered dinners that have been sprayed silver, and a lifetime collection of family and handmade ornaments. There is an tiny accordion fold book from a member of my book artist group, a playing card glued to wrapping paper from a ten-year old, but that was over twenty years ago, and a very old-ladylike crocheted and felt bird from a one of my mother’s friends, and a goofy cork horse. They are all dear to me. Some of my family ornaments were recovered–the box my mother had set aside for me disappeared when she died–and our tree now includes a tinseled cut-out Santa from 1922 that was given to my grandparents when my dad was a baby, and a German elf we used to find candy in each Christmas day. The star that serves as our tree-queen’s crown is from my husband’s mother.
Outside the ring of fir trees jostle and elbow each other as they peer in to see the queen. I’d be happy with spruce, pine, or cedar, but I share this space, and my partner insists on fir. They will be there watching as the queen is carried out. Tinsel will shimmer, she will be unadorned, but it is not tragic. One ornament goes with her to the pyre. It is not one of my treasures, but it chosen for its beauty, and like a Viking’s favorite sword, it will accompany her as she leaves us.
On Candlemas Day she will blaze and warm us all. Traditionally, this is the day old Christmas trees, wreathes and garlands are burned. Her blazing branches will remind us yet again to make our days count. The circular court of fir trees sway and do homage as her sparks leap to the sky, dancing above their limbs and burning out high in the dark night air. Their day will come.
The First Christmas Tree.