When I was a kid, we had an artificial Christmas tree. It was completely, utterly, plastic and, to my eye, the embodiment of Christmas at home. Throughout the year, it was carefully stored in plastic bags in an old tea chest under the stairs, where it shared its down time with other boxes of miscellany and some very large spiders. I was never the one to volunteer to pull it out each December, for who knew what stowaways wanted to join the festivities.
When I was in my teens and the value of teasing my parents about themselves had become apparent, I joined in the general disparagement of that tree—its perfect plastic limbs raised in permanent Hallelujah; its plug-in branches shedding stubs of cedar-esque leaves as each year went by; its unapologetic uniformity in direct defiance of its real cousins.
Yet, secretly, I loved it still. Standing in the steam of a tropical summer, the whirling ceiling fan keeping the worst of the day's warm blanket off its admirers, there it stood—so perfect, so unwavering, so triangular. And I can still summon the smell—something to do with dust, plastic, old tea chest wood and, most definitely, essence of festive huntsman spider.
I am one of the lucky ones. I can cast my mind back to my childhood, place myself on the patterned carpet, look up at my remembered tree, and summon a shimmering glimpse of what it was to be hopeful, trusting, believing. This tree did not share Santa (or Father Christmas, as my Mum would say) with me. I was done with him by the time we met. But it was there that I learnt to believe in the other things that have now become inextricably linked with this time of year. The imperative of giving, the necessity of loving, despite our stumbles or their failures, and the importance of pausing with those that are yours because they, you, it all, matters. Like I said, I am one of the lucky ones.
How funny we are that around an off-gassing, inaccurate replica of those very trees that performed the ancient ritual of bringing the hope of life inside on the darkest of (northern European) days, we can still find all those same meanings. How human. How wonderful, in fact.