Friday, January 6, 2017

The Tree

Today is Epiphany. This day, for me, and thousands of others, marks the end of the Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas, according to the old tradition, begins on the 25th of December and ends twelve days later (natürlich) on the 5th of January. The next day, the 6th (today) marks the day when the Magi visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.
The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. - Matthew 2:1-12

While, for me, the Christmas season doesn't really end until I go back to work on the 9th of January, three days hence, I saw my first Christmas tree sitting at the curbside waiting for disposal, last Monday, the 2nd of January. This brought back a number of memories.

As I was out for my first real physical exercise in months (which I told you about here) I saw a pile of leaves on the sidewalk before me, next to what I thought was a low growing bush. As I got closer, wondering how the leaves had managed to stay on the sidewalk given the constant wind we get in these parts, I saw that the bush was actually a discarded tree. I was nearly overwhelmed by sadness as I pictured this tree, not eight days earlier, covered in decorations and lights, with colorfully wrapped presents underneath. I could almost hear the happy cries of children as they came into the room and saw the tree, in all it's glory.

Now, it was here on the sidewalk, waiting to be recycled no doubt, ground up into mulch perhaps. But the day was cold and overcast. I could still picture that very same tree on Christmas Day. I could also see the tree being brought to this home, being set up and decorated. The children's' eyes sparkling in the soft glow of the Christmas lights, then off to bed, perhaps with dreams of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Dreams of something wonderful and happy, no doubt.

I remember when our kids had gone off to bed the night we set our tree up. The Missus Herself and I sipping a warm beverage and just admiring the lights. With candles in the windows and the tree all lit up, no other lights were needed. The soft glow spoke of peace, of happiness, of warmth when outside all was cold and dark.

I remember the same feelings when I was a child, that last glimpse of the tree before heading into the bedroom, counting the days until Christmas was here.

As all things must, Christmas passes. It returns, but not for all who were there in Christmases past. My Christmases are always, in some ways, haunted by those who are no longer in the room with us. This haunting though is not an evil thing, not at all. The spirits of those we loved will never be far away. They have simply gone to a place where we cannot follow. Well, not immediately anyway. Someday we all make that journey.

But that discarded tree took me back to a Christmas long, long ago. As most families did, we took our tree down on New Year's Day. (The folks across the street took theirs down the afternoon of Christmas Day. I, though they were good people, considered them barbarians. Though, as my Dad would often point out, unlike most, those folks put their tree up the Friday after Thanksgiving. I'm sure that tree was dry enough that the spark from a bit of static electricity would probably be enough to set it ablaze!)

Well, this one particular Christmas we had a lot of snow. Apparently there would be no trash pick up until the following week. Rather than put the tree down where the curb lay under three feet of snow, Dad simply put it next to the front steps. Saved him a trip out into the cold and, truth be told, the tree would probably be a hazard to navigation. With each snowfall our street would get more and more narrow until it was hard to get two cars to pass each other. This was one of those winters.

So there was the tree, sitting forlorn by the front door, still with bits of tinsel in its branches. My brother, The Olde Vermonter, and I went out to play. It may have been he who mentioned how sad it made him to see that lovely tree, which we had decorated and opened gifts under on Christmas Day, now sitting there awaiting who knows what fate.

At that moment, my brother and I, probably within milliseconds of each other, had the idea to take the tree up into the woods. Why let the trashman take this beautiful emblem of our beloved holiday away? Why not take the tree back to where it came from, the woods.

So we did. Halfway up the hill, Dad came out and inquired just what the two of us were up to. (Not that us dragging the tree up the hill was bad or anything, just odd.) When we informed him, he bid us, "carry on." Didn't bother him one way or the other. Also saved him having to haul it down to the curb.

We found a good spot. Kind of sheltered and kind of easy to find again. We thought it was perfect. With some dignity we laid the tree there. Silently we stood there for a few moments, thinking back to how beautiful the tree looked in the house on Christmas Day. Then, without saying much, we trudged back down out of the woods and went about our business. Building snow forts, sledding, perhaps even a bit of street football. Anything to enjoy the snow while it lasted.

Later, in the New Year, The Olde Vermonter, I'm sure it was he, coined the term, "The Christmas Tree Graveyard." I liked it, it was fitting, it was respectful, at least we thought so. My parents asked where that was, we wouldn't tell. Only my brothers and I knew the location, we would never reveal that. Yes, the youngest of my brothers, The Musician, also knew the location, when he got older he would help take the tree to its final resting place.

The forest is still there. When we were kids somebody else owned it, now The Olde Vermonter owns it, having received a good deal on the land and not wanting some developer building more houses up there. A big chunk of our childhood playground, the forest, now has houses, not trees. Progress, I guess. I wonder what good that does in a town with few jobs?

Perhaps one day, when I'm up north in the ancestral lands once more, I'll go into the forest and see if I can find the Christmas Tree Graveyard. Probably not, it's been nearly forty years since I've walked in that forest. A long time ago. But even if the spot has changed, even if I can't find it.

The memory remains.

And that, I suppose, has to be enough.


  1. Thank you for sharing your memories.

    Paul L. Quandt

  2. Beautiful post.... Remembering Christmas in Greer county with the old ones long gone....

  3. Absolutely lovely. You brought many memories back for me. I was recently searching for a topic to write upon for Christmas and this would have spurred my imagination very nicely. So, I'm saving a printout of this because it will remind me next year, as starting point, when it will once again be current for such topics in the Boston Herald. I hope you'll like my own take on it then. Thank you for the (future) inspiration!

    1. I am honored to be someone's inspiration. (As opposed to being a bad example, I've been both.)

  4. One of the bittersweet joys of getting, uh, more experienced, is to occasionally visit old haunts and see whats changed and whats remained the same. I find it to be good fun and a bit of a soul cleanser.

    Fun post. I was never very wrapped up in the tree, I had my eye on the presents. Selfish little barstid I was/is. I do remember with great delight the cats being forcefully evicted from the tree. The old man always bounced 'em off the wall and that lesson would stick... until the next year!

    1. Our cats never took much of an interest in climbing the tree. They'd rather chill out underneath the tree. In order to ambush the unwary. One year The Nuke's dog, Bear, saw one of the feline staff under the tree, she stuck her nose in just to say "Hi." Needless to say, she didn't do that again. For that matter, Anya, the perp, decided to sleep elsewhere the remainder of the visit.

      Both parties, canine and feline, stayed in a state of heightened vigilance after that.

  5. Have I ever told you the story of the Christmas Bush, and how the Possum came to Visit?

    1. Why no, you haven't.

      Do tell.

    2. The BadgerDad believed in huge trees at Christmas. We had 10 foot ceilings in our ancestral Manse in Mauston, so he was able to indulge himself. He also thought the tree should be almost as full at the top, as the bottom. His perfect tree would be the middle third of a 30 foot balsam.

      One year, when I was away at college, he brought home a tree, set it up, wired it to the wall, and, having left it to thaw overnight, went to bed. The next Morning, Dad, Mom, and my sister Martha came down, to find Goobs the dog, Thomasina the Calico, and Tristan, the 27 pound Siamese, Lazarus the Norwegian Forest Cat, and Tyrone, the orange and white Barn Kat, watching the tree intently.

      Dad went to see what was interesting them so, and a possum stuck it's head out of the foliage. Dad was able to open the front door, and herd the possum out of the house. I am sort of surprised, given the sort of man my father was, that he did not make the possum a sandwich to take with. What really surprises me, is that we did not have a possum in our family from that day on.

      Animals loved my dad for some reason, cats thought of him as a kind of catnip, dogs thought of his as a kind of dognip. I am sure he would have been possumnip too. I wish he had kept it, as it would be cool to say to my brother, sisters, or friends, " Remember Nigel? He sure was a Good Possum! "

    3. Ever since Dad died, I have used artificial trees. I loved his huge Christmas Bushes, but I have a hard time with justifying, " What a beautiful tree, let's kill it!"

    4. I've had artificial trees since 1983. Had no woods to take the tree to after Christmas.

      Speaking of which, my brother tells me that he still uses the same spot we had as kids.

  6. Excellent post on several levels.


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