The Tree on the Curb

Few physical objects cause me more sorrow than do discarded Christmas trees. Starting on Christmas […]

Richard Mammana / 12.28.17

Few physical objects cause me more sorrow than do discarded Christmas trees. Starting on Christmas Day itself, they begin turning up on the curb. (I saw one in Connecticut already thrown away on Christmas Eve this year.) Some are tossed away still with lights and decorations on them, while others are stripped of their finery before being sent off to weather the elements. They sit for days and weeks without any attention from sanitation crews—collecting snow, soaking up rain, silent in their jealousy of siblings and cousins who have been allowed to stay in cozy living rooms for at least the full duration of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

At home, we opt for a minimalist-maximalist approach when it comes to Christmas trees. Half-way through January, our tree will still be standing.

We get our tree as late as possible in December, decorating it on Christmas Eve, and allowing Advent to be a season of quiet preparation for the coming Feast of the Nativity. This isn’t so much out of an attitude of liturgical precisionism—I am not a member of the Advent Police any longer, though I may have been in an unwiser youth—as it is a kind of thanksgiving for all Advent has to offer on its own. Between Advent calendars and Advent songs and Advent wreaths, we have always had enough to do by way of preparatory celebration in the weeks between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas.

Then Christmastide itself comes, with its twelve traditional days and their succession of observances: Boxing Day with the martyrdom of Stephen, and then the commemorations of St. Thomas, the Holy Innocents, St. Sylvester, the Circumcision (Holy Name for the squeamish) culminating in the visit of the Three Kings on the Feast of the Epiphany. Our tree keeps us warm in its covering and calming light all through this almost-two-weeks.

It occurs to me that the trees on the curb just after Christmas Day itself are a sign and symptom of the depression that clusters so reliably around “the Holidays.” The lead-up—commercial, musical, eventful—has been so intense in the weeks since Thanksgiving that there are no presents or meals or other experiences that could live up to the promise. The dead-tossed trees, no longer watered or gazed upon with wonder, are silent indications of the post-Christmas letdown that descends with an annual malaise.

In their municipal cycles, the wood-chippers will come to make mulch for the parks out of the just slightly non-pagan druidical oaks around which our ancestors once huddled under dripping ceilings. But for a season—decided by every family according to its own conscience and practice—there are Lights shining in our homes, and we sit around them in welcoming if not always comprehending joy.

It’s after Epiphany that I think our practice diverges with that in many families, because we keep our tree up all the way until Candlemas, February 2. This is the traditional liturgical year’s final commemoration of what we know from the Bible about Jesus’ childhood. In the scant series of episodes recorded in the Gospels about the Lord’s birth, this one takes place when Mary presents Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem. The elderly prophets Anna and Simeon rejoice that their eyes have seen the “salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the nations; and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

This is one of the tenderest moments of human contact described in all of scripture. It shows us the meaningful meeting of elderly persons and an infant; the interpretation of the child Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy and covenant; and it marries vision with touch, voice with presence, and light in darkness. Candlemas closes out the New Testament’s narrative of the holy infancy, and it announces an adulthood of global significance. It’s as fitting an end as any to Christmastide.

Our tree has told us so, and we believe.


One response to “The Tree on the Curb”

  1. Pam B says:

    Thanks for this. It’s as beautiful a reason for the liturgical calendar as I’ve read in a long time.

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