I’m starting to see the end of each year as a kind of travesty against nature.
This year, I’m feeling a little bit lost.
I realized it last weekend when my brother called me as he and his family were on their way to cut down a tree for Christmas. When I heard his plan, my heart sank. I felt sad for the tree. Its life was ending so it could stand in a house for about 30 days, and then be hauled off to the trash.
All I could think was, what a waste.
And for what? So there’s something to put a bunch of presents under? Presents that aren’t needed, that were made in China, and wrapped in paper that required the sacrifice of more trees?
I never thought I’d be this person—the one who brings the cloud of cynicism to the party.
As a child and teenager I loved Christmas. I especially loved real Christmas trees, and never understood how anyone could have a fake tree, or how they could live without that pine smell. To me, that smell was Christmas.
I never thought about the tree, or what it meant to the planet.
Now, I’m starting to see the end of each year as a kind of travesty against nature. We kill a bunch of birds in order to give thanks. Then we cut down a 31 million trees in order to have a showcase for more stuff.
Despite this, Christmas still means something to me. But what, I don’t know.
Erma Bombeck once said, “There’s nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”
That might sum up my feelings.
What pulls me to Christmas is tied to my childhood and to the traditions that were born there: decorating sugar cookies with sprinkles until my fingers had turned red and green. Picking a Christmas tree. Pulling the same decorations out of the boxes, year after year. And the sweetness of Christmas morning, when my family was just together, when we could all just be.
I remember a Christmas morning when I was about 10 or 11. I had woken earlier than everyone and in the darkness crept downstairs to see what Santa had brought. By this time I had already realized that Santa had the same handwriting as my Dad, but it didn’t matter. There was still something magical in the silence as I lay under a blanket beside the tree and stared at the colored lights.
That’s the first moment I remember feeling something holy. It was just me and the tree, chillin’, and yet in that space there was nowhere else to be, and no one else to be. Maybe that’s the moment that defined how I would find solace in the future. These days, nothing sets me right more than sitting still and watching the branches of a tree sway.
And these days, I find I need to be set right quite often, especially this time of year. Despite the joy and merriment we are supposed to feel as set forth by advertising, some of us don’t feel it.
Instead, I find myself feeling sad. I think about the planet, and ache for her. I worry she won’t be able to sustain us, which makes me worry for my niece and nephew. I think about those who have lost someone this year, and how this season has a way of opening wounds that may have just begun to close. And I think of those who are alone, and those who just feel alone.
I also start to hate humanity just a little bit, as I watch us consume, consume, consume without thought to consequences. And as the solstice draws nearer, I find myself wanting to go inward more, while the whole world seems to want me at one gathering or another.
To me, it’s not all merry and bright.
So for now, I send thanks for my family and my dear friends. I appreciate the way the lights look with a fresh coat of snow, and the bursting excitement of my niece and nephew. They brighten as they tell me about their tree, and what they asked Santa for this year.
Their complete immersion in the present takes me back to that moment when I was 10 years old, and to the silence on Christmas morning, when the world stops to catch its breath, and everything slows down to a pace that seems manageable.
Maybe that silence is enough. Maybe that moment is what I believe in. When it was just me and the stillness next to a tree.