O Christmas Tree(s)
- December 11, 2015
- Josh Godwin
Last weekend, for the first time ever, I bought a real Christmas tree. I drove to the mountains, grabbed a measuring stick, found a tree, and brought it home strapped to the top of my car. It was truly a revelation in my life. All I had ever known was the pale imitation of plastic green specks arranged to look like limbs; metal hooks locked into rings that you then had to fluff out in order for the metal and plastic contraption to even begin resembling a Christmas tree. I got very good at fluffing those plastic limbs; some would say scary good, but I would dare call it obsessively good.
Because I knew that no matter the hours I spent fluffing, the tree I had was an imitation of something else. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved that plastic tree my parents used my entire life (yes, it was and is the same one for 25 years). I’m not claiming that artificial trees are for any reason subpar from real trees. For Saint Nick’s sakes an artificial tree occupied my parents’ living room for the greater part of every 25 Decembers I’ve known. But I always knew there was always something more, something I had not experienced that was out there waiting for me. Something about the Christmas season that I had always had a small glimpse at, but never the full thing.
Doesn’t this dilemma with the types of Christmas trees imitate the dilemma all of us face every December? Artificial trees are great and all, and they serve the purpose just fine, but there’s something missing from the experience. The run and gun of Black Friday serves the purpose of reminding all of us it’s that time of year again, but there’s something missing from the experience. There’s something missing from this experience of Christmas that comes with huge sales, big boxes, and miles and miles of wrapping rolls.
The Christmas narrative of Bethlehem, that classically romantic story of an unplanned pregnancy resulting in an emergency birth in the barn out back, is that something more. It’s the basis of everything we know and love about Christmas. Undergirding the whole drive for gifts is the love displayed in that original Christmas story.
I was never a fan of the “put Jesus back in Christmas” debates, because I don’t think Jesus ever went anywhere in Christmas. Sure, the boxes, paper rolls, and credit card bills overtake the priority of most people as the years keep advancing. Sure, an unnamed coffee store cha…no, I refuse to acknowledge that was ever an issue. Sure, the attentiveness of the public turns more and more to toy commercial campaigns and the latest mediocre-at-best Christmas movie. But even in the midst of all these artificial Christmas trees, the real experience of Christmas is residing within. We can’t get out of the artificial trees around us; the Christmas season will keep being a time for purchasing, traveling, and most of all giving. I’m not saying Christians should embrace this idea, but I am saying we should at least not be so antagonistic to it.
I should clarify that when I say I have a real Christmas tree, I also have an artificial tree in my house (my wife is a huge Christmas fan…hence the dual tree optimization). The real tree reminds me of the real thing undergirding everything about this season. Every time I have to water that tree, I’m reminded of the work that story calls Christians to do in the same Spirit of love that brought Jesus to Earth. Every time I smell that real-tree-smell, I’m reminded of the natural-ness of that nighttime in the barn story. But every time I see the artificial tree, I’m reminded that this season is a symbol of that story. Just like the artificial tree is a symbol of that real tree, all the things that we as Christians are scared to admit we enjoy about the Christmas season is a symbol of that real Christmas story. Just because something isn’t really real, doesn’t mean it can’t point us towards the thing that is. Just because the Christmas season comes with all the TV specials, big boxes, incessant music, and thinning wallets doesn’t mean that it can’t point us back to the heart of that giving spirit, the love that was embodied in Jesus’s Christmas.