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Christmas Eve 2017
The United Church of Jaffrey
Best Practices… not
The 8 foot Christmas tree was halfway through its journey from the roof rack on the Mazda to the corner of our living room… w
The 8 foot Christmas tree was halfway through its journey from the roof rack on the Mazda to the corner of our living room… when I let it drop.
Lying there, with it’s base in the mudroom, and its peak still on the front porch…
The tree looked sad.
It looked like what it is — a felled tree.
I lingered there long enough to take a breath, and remind myself of where we keep our stash of vacuum cleaner bags.
I was going to need one.
The whole idea of going out, in the middle of winter, to cut down a small evergreen tree…
Strap it to the top of the car,
And drag it into the house
It’s a little odd isn’t it?
Why do we do this again?
It’s a good question.
In case, by the way, you are not acquainted with this particular maneuver–that is, of bringing a christmas tree into the house and setting it up — you might benefit from knowing some of the best practices.
The first thing to do, is not do what I do…
Which is to do the whole thing in a hurry all by myself without any help from anyone.
Don’t do that.
Cause if you do that, the branches will definitely sweep all the magnets off the side of the refrigerator as you go by, dragging a trail of old photo-booth pictures, store circulars, and plumber business cards out onto the dining room floor.
“Good Lord” Cary said, watching this disaster unfold in slow motion. “Do you want any help?”
“No.” I said.
By then the tree, miraculously no worse for its unceremonious travels, had reached its destination and was lying on the carpet of the living room, poised stand up again and spread forth its beautiful deep green skirts.
An Old Tradition
The tradition of bringing evergreens indoors in winter goes back to pagan times, when evergreen boughs were brought indoors to remind people of the fertile seasons and hurry the return of warmer weather.
The Puritans — our forebears in the Congregational Church of New England — knew this, and were not amused. They banned the frivolous custom, calling it a pagan mockery and actually making it a crime to decorate a tree during the sacred season.
It wasn’t until 1850, when an illustration showing Queen Victoria beside a decorated Christmas tree was widely published in England and the United States, that the tradition took hold in earnest.
Apparently Martin Luther himself was the first to decorate a tree. One night, walking in the snow, God’s majesty was revealed to Luther as he looked at the stars shining through the trees. He brought a tree inside and tried to recapture the moment with candles and other shiny decorations.
Cary read all these interesting tidbits to me from an article about the History of the Christmas Tree in the back of the Week Magazine.
The subject of Christmas trees was on our minds because, you see, our Christmas tree fiasco had not ended when I’d clumsily deposited it in the living room.
Far from it.
You see, when, at last, we succeeded in standing the tree up…
When, at last, we wrangled the two boys from their computers, and started the process of stringing lights and hanging ornaments,
From somewhere underneath the couch,
We heard an ominous sound…
The sound that spells out the certain demine of all objects that dare to dangle from tree branches…
With this sound, at first a barely audible scratching at the feet of the piano bench — we became gradually aware, that for us, the idea of bringing an evergreen tree into that house and covering it with dangling objects was not just a cultural peculiarity…
For us, it was outright folly.
Because for us, those little bells, wooden stars, and colored balls would never be — as Luther intended them to be — a reminder of God’s grandeur.
Because, last summer, our household (through no fault of our own) complemented an already catastrophic situation with the addition of two high-spirited male kittens — those Christmas ornaments were doomed to the dubious destiny of being nothing more or less than cat toys.
At midnight, with a tingle of foreboding, I turned off the string of colored lights and went to bed,
As we slept, the shiny dangling objects did their work, inflaming an irrepressible instinct in the breasts of the wee felines and…
In the morning, our worst fears were realized.
The entire tree had been pulled down!
Most of our beloved ornaments were all over the floor.
Many of them were in pieces.
None of the Nativity scenes that I have ever seen includes a Cat.
The creche out front of our church displays Donkeys and sheep. Even a camel.
I’ve heard of oxes and doves being nearby.
But never a cat
So why preach about cats and christmas trees?
I will close my remarks, this morning, with the assertion that, believe it or not, there is a principle hiding in this tricky business of cats and the christmas trees.
The Principle of the Cat and the Christmas Ornament.
We look at a Christmas ornament, and we see something that has a certain traditional meaning to us.
The cat teaches us that this meaning is arbitrary.
What is a cross, or a star to us, is an irresistible toy to a young male cat.
And we, of course, are inclined to think that our interpretation of the Christmas ornament is superior to the cats…
The cat, after all, is just a cat.
And we humans have been perfecting the sophisticated meaning of christmas ornaments for generations.
Perhaps the deep stirring that is brought to life in the breast of the cat — the impulse to hunt for prey, or simply the desire to work out its primal energy — perhaps this deep stirring, is closer, than our complex symbols, to the original stirring that brought evergreens into the house —
The stirring, in the soul, at the memory of the green earth
And warm weather.
These deep stirrings should not be dismissed as pagan
They are from the earth
And so they remind us,
Even as the miraculous birth of the Christ child also reminds us…
That there is a deep well of goodness alive in the universe
That stirs in our hearts
And brings light to the darkness.