The annual argument about ‘real’ trees versus ‘fake’ trees is upon us. Proponents of ‘real’ trees talk about the smell, the uniqueness of a different tree every year and so on. Proponents of artificial trees point to the costs of buying a tree each year, the mess of pine needles, etc. As far as can be known the arguments don’t change much from year to year. The best arguments both for and against ‘real’ trees can best be understood by watching the hilarious National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Clark Griswold’s search for the perfect tree.
All I know is that I love all Christmas trees, even the hideous shiny aluminum trees with the rotating lights and the ‘flocked’ trees that were all the rage when I was in elementary school in the 60s. Plastic or real, Scotch pine or spruce, I love them all.
Five years ago I required emergency surgery and came closer to death than I realized at the time. For three weeks it was all I could do to make it a few feet from our bed to my chair each day. I dozed in my chair all day doing little but taking pain medication and gazing at my tree. At a time when I did not have enough energy to read, watch TV or even pray the soft glow of the lights on the tree gave me a sense of peace, stability and hope that things would be better in the days to come. A few weeks after the surgery I used a wheelchair to get on a plane to Germany for a promised Christmas with my son. Jet lag, continued pain and fatigue all combined to disrupt my sleep pattern so I spent many nights downstairs in his chair looking at his tree which was different and yet the same as my own.
Two years after the emergency surgery, almost to the day, I had a knee replaced and found myself confined to my chair or my couch most of the time, even for sleeping. Once more I was dozing, immobile, and in pain most of the time. Once again I found comfort in the soft glow of the tree lights penetrating the darkness and experiencing a sense of hope that all would be well down the road.
This year there seems to be an even greater awareness that evil is real and present in the world. Extreme violence and desperation are evident every day if one listens to the news or picks up a paper. Still, I wonder if the the world of Judea and Galilee was all that much different two thousand years ago. Poverty, violence and despair have always been present in the world and I will not see an end to them in my lifetime.
But into that darkness came a great Light that has brought comfort and hope to millions upon millions for thousands of years. For some a Christmas tree might be a ‘pagan symbol’ or need to be ‘real’ to be any good. My Christmas tree is a very real reminder that I always seem to need this time of year; a symbol of hope in the darkness and evidence that all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of a single candle.