The Christmas Tree

Christmas, 1994

She started out a tiny seedling in a box, and grew straight and symmetrical, beautiful in her scented needles. She waited silent and wondering in the nursery, until a young couple took her, and brought her into their house. The man carried her like a bride across the doorstep, and set her down in the living room in front of the fireplace.

She was fearful of fire, and shrank back from the heat, but it came no closer, and did her no harm. She got used to it but never truly at ease before its menacing mutter, sparks whipping up the chimney. She was more comfortable when the fire was dark and the chill night descended.

The couple decorated her with colored glass balls, and strings of cranberry and popcorn hugged her branches. Carved wooden figures, painted bright: a leaping rabbit, a two-headed mermaid, a soldier stiff and formal, a glass angel with golden wings. Tinsel brilliant, tiny colored lights entwined, and a golden paper star for a crown. They swathed her feet with red cloth, and piled paper-wrapped packages beneath her arms.

She felt their love and perfumed their home. On Christmas morning they sat beside her and gave each other gifts and kisses. They praised her loveliness, and stroked her needles, pressing them to their faces and breathing deep the pine clean scent.

They undressed her on the dawn of the Feast of the Three Kings, carefully removing the fragile glass ornaments, the wooden dancers who had swayed and sparkled with every breeze, the strings of lights and the paper star, the red cloth folded on top of the special box, all put away on a high shelf. But they left the tinsel and the festoon of cranberries and cloud-puffy popcorn, a remnant and reminder of her dress.

The couple picked her up, and carried her out into the backyard. They set her down where the sun could warm her and the wind frolic through her limbs, and poured a great refreshing draft of cool water over her roots, soaking down deep. She was so thirsty. She'd forgotten how much she loved the sky.

It was the dead of winter, cold and brilliant. She shook herself and wondered as birds flew and feasted on her popcorn, and thieving magpies and bold jays picked off her tinsel for their hoarded nests.

Spring came, and soft rains. Squirrels frisked chattering at her feet, buried nuts a hidden treasure among her roots. Spiderwebs brilliant with morning dew brought memories of Christmas glory. Summer hot and dusty, but every week on Sunday morning a long drink, and in the dry Autumn, a gay sprinkler played over her needles, dripping wet in the long evenings.

Days grew shorter, nights colder. Rain danced, sun gilded, moon silvered, stars tangled in her branches breaking free at last leaping into the sky. Christmas time came again, and the couple brushed her off, gently picking out dead leaves, and gave her a good long spray from a garden hose.

A few days later they carried her into the house, dark and vague, with the menacing fireplace and strange music, and silence and sounds nothing at all like the outdoors. No birds or squirrels, no spiders or nests or bugs or butterflies. But again the astonishing wonder of lights and tinsel, bobbing ornaments and the rich red cloth draped around her feet.

Gifts piled high, Christmas morning and a loving couple and an amazing, different world for a few rich days. Then Twelfth Night and the undressing, and a brushing, dizzy journey back to her true home in the yard. Days of memories and desire, yearning for the bright moment with its excitement and fears that came once every year, year after year, lightening the darkest moment.

The couple watered her every week. Birds serenaded, squirrels chattered, insects hovered, spiders decorated her with fairyland gossamer. She drank up the sunlight and loved the wind and the rain. Over the years she grew, but not much. Her box was small and she stayed small too. All the year, she stood in the backyard, happy with memory and dreams of her moment of glory.

The nights grew cool, then frosty. Squirrels nested, birds scrambled for scattered seed, and the longest night came and went and she was not taken into the house. She waited, shivering with anticipation of the joy and excitement of Christmas. But nothing happened. The man sat in the yard beside her and fed nuts to the squirrels and seeds to the birds. He sat for long intervals, doing nothing. Looking at the sky and the clouds. Looking at his hands. A feeling of intense sadness came to her from him, and she longed to reach out and give comfort, but she could not. Christmas did not come that year.

Heart of winter, freezing sleet and silver ice. Birds perched on her arms, the days grew long and longer yet and warmer. Spring rains, Summer heat and then Autumn, and Winter crept up again as it always had. She grew fearful and apprehensive. Had she done something wrong? Did the people love her still? Was she ugly or dirty or too big or scraggly? Would the people take her into the house and dress her bright this one time out of the year or would she never again be beautiful? Was Christmas over forever? She waited, filled with hope and dread.

The shortest day came. The man picked the tree up in his arms and carried her by himself into the house and set her down at her accustomed place before the fire, and wrapped her around and around with the red cloth over her feet, and placed lights and tinsel on her needles and made glorious her branches with the dancing rabbit and the angel and the soldier and bright glass balls, and the paper star for a crown.

A baby crawled beneath her branches, and tugged at the ornaments and laughed a tinkling laugh, and the man held the child and placed paper-wrapped packages around the red cloth. Christmas morning came, and the man opened the packages, and the child played with the paper wrappings and fell asleep under the tree, and the man patted the baby and looked into the fire.

Epiphany came, and the man undressed the tree, and left the tinsel and popcorn and cranberry strings, as always, for the birds and squirrels to eat. But this time he also left the glass angel with wings of gold hanging from one of her branches.

And the man picked the tree up and carried her back into the yard and set her so that a different side could embrace the Sun for one whole new year, as always. And she sighed with pleasure and joy that Christmas had come again, and at her memory of splendor, and with relief at being back in her familiar yard again with the birdsongs and cricket chirps and squirrel chatter and spiderwebs sparkling with dew and thought her slow thoughts season into season, through sunshine and shadow.

All year the angel danced in her arms and kissed her in the wind, and the tree grew to love her, and love the adornment and beauty that was always with her.

The tree dreamed of Christmas and of lights, and dreamed that her dreams were enough and if Christmas came or did not come, still the angel would dance with her, and birds would rest on her limbs and the Sun would shine on her and the wind would caress her and the rain would rain its soft tears on her branches and the sky would cover her like a rich cloth and the stars would be her crown.


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The Christmas Tree

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