This post is part of the series “Christmas at My House.” Reflections on the wide-diversity of Christmas experiences.
In my house Christmas is, and has long been, a tradition associated with trees. Picking them out, bringing them home, decorating them, stripping them after the holiday and eating any of the remaining chocolate treats we pretended not to have been stealing all along.
As a kid, in England, we always had a real tree. In fact it was a point of pride – for my mother especially – that unlike some other families who would cheapen the meaning of Christmas by opting for the more convenient (no loose needles, no need to water) and cost effective fake trees, we maintained a dedication to the true spirit of the holiday (authenticity somehow being more important than frugality, sustainability or the obviously pagan associations of the tree).
I don’t want this to seem overly negative though, I loved the trees we had and indeed, the often ungainly lopsidedness did seem to add a special something which the perfect topiary of a machine made plasti-tree could never attain.
I did not realise until much later in life that my mother’s insistence on this point was her one hold-out beneath an avalanche of compromise regarding the decorations at large. My father, my siblings and I had what might best be described as a “colourful” approach to sprucing up the place.
We hung coloured tinsel and ceiling decorations in all the common rooms of the house, the tree lights were multi-coloured and sometimes flashing and the ornaments were a mishmash of gaudy baubles, homemade tat, and a few classy, wooden, themed pieces. This latter is the tone that mum would have preferred throughout. White tree lights, simple, elegant decorations and sprigs of holly instead of the green and gold paper chains.
All-in-all I guess she was pretty lenient.
As a child, Christmas lasted long into January as, from time-to-time, tussling on the carpet with my younger brother, one or the other of us would yelp in pain as a pine needle found the surface after its adventures in the warp and weft.
This all changed when we moved to Turkey.
Being in a Muslim country, finding anything at all Christmas related was a real challenge. Cards, candies, tinsel, turkey, all out of the question.
And a tree? None of the befuddled store clerks could comprehend why we would want to buy a tree, let alone take it home and put it in our living room.
I can’t remember how it came about, I think my mysteriously resourceful uncle, who is Turkish and lived in the apartment below us, had something to do with it, but one day my dad came home with a tree, rootstock and all, and we duly planted it in a bucket and dressed it up.
It might have been the best tree ever. After the holiday was over we planted it in the back yard planning to use it again next year. We may have had two or three Christmases with that tree before the stress of transplantation finally got the better of it and it withered and died.
We moved to Turkey in ’91. By ’95 a French supermarket called Carrefour had arrived in Istanbul and for the first time Christmas was available for purchase. This deluge of festivity, however, bought with it the terrible specter of the fake tree, and for the first time the question of whether or not to buy one was a genuine dilemma.
Our real tree was dead, we were not able to source another (coincidence that we no longer lived in the same building as my uncle?). So it was a cheapened, fake Christmas or no Christmas at all. Faced with this terrible choice, my mum’s principles crumbled. We never had a real tree again.
Now I find myself in a country where, not only are real trees sold at every major retail outlet, but many families will actually take a trip out to the woods to select and fell their own! And so, with little money to afford these beautiful specimens, and no one but myself to decorate for, and having become accustomed to the convenience of the artificial, I find myself with my own dilemma.
Reclaim Christmas past and buy a real tree, go for the easy and economical option of a fake, or just not bother at all? The choice has taken on a none-to-subtle symbolism as I make decisions about my relationship to my past and past faith generally. What does a post-christian christmas look like, and what part will it play in my future interaction with the season?