Monday, December 15, 2008

Trees of Light

I have three Xmas trees decorated and finished in my hew home. (They're artificial trees, nice but nothing special in themselves.) The big one in the music studio (the second bedroom converted to this purpose) is covered with musically-themed ornaments, which is a tradition in my family. My mother was a full-time musician, and my physician father was a dedicated amateur, so we have given each other musically-themed gifts for many years. This tree also bears a few special ornaments that are my favorite, my most beautiful ornaments.

There are two smaller trees, one on the glassed-in porch, and one on the table in the master bedroom. The small tree on the porch is themed for Mom and Dad, as a memorial tree. It bears ornaments that make me think of them, including turtles, loons, a squirrel, a Michigan ornament, and others that they had given each other over the years. It’s their tree. The third tree, in my bedroom, is all shiny reflective ornaments, like mirror-covered shapes, balls, and other things that cast light. In the afternoon sunlight, sparks of light fall all over the walls and carpet in this room. This tree also carries some of my personal ornaments, specifically given to me over the years by my family.

A solstice tree is about light. You hang the round reflective ball ornaments on the inner branches, so they reflect more light outwards, and also reflect the images of the ornaments and lights. They brighten up the whole tree with spherical mirrors. The outer branch tips is where I like to put the showpiece ornaments.

It’s snowed heavily as I decorated, setting the mood, the flakes big and heavy and falling almost vertically. Snow blows in heavy waves off the roof, making veils in front of the window.

I find myself feeling heavy with emotion most days this winter. It’s partly the holidays, the memories associated with them, and with decorating a tree. It's partly that it's my first holiday season alone; I often feel cut off, disconnected from the celebrations surrounding me. I do have friends, but many of them live far away from here, as does my remaining family. I have been invited to some family friends' celebrations, but I've turned down most of them, feeling like a fifth wheel; everybody has their own lives to enjoy together, and they ought to appreciate them all the more. I'm too close to knowing how fragile and ephemeral it all is. They need to spend the full force of their time together, without a relative stranger being there to also be entertained.

Part of me thinks decorating a tree or two for the holidays is stupid, as no one will ever come here to see them; and if you aren’t making them to share, then why bother? But then I realize this is part of my ritual of remembrance for this year; and I do it for myself, and for my absent parents. Furthermore, winter solstice trees are Trees of Life and Light. The Tannenbaum is much older as a tradition than Xmas, and is about the Light Returning as the Yearwheel turns; we come back to the light after plunging into the dark, and the Year turns round again. The further North one lives, of course, the darker and colder it gets at winter solstice. I live in the Northern Midwest, that part of the center of the United States that could be defined as being within a day’s drive of Canada. I am native to this region, despite my early years in India. The Midwest remains the heartland, and my own Heartland. I will always return here, as it’s the only home part of me recognizes as enduring, although I have had many other short term homes across the globe. My body feels like it’s at home, here, even though my soul likes to rove and wander and travel, and return.

Yet who do I have to share these beautiful trees with? Most of my closest friends don’t live nearby, and none of my family is left here. And they have their own celebrations to attend to. I have been feeling very alone, isolated, cut off, abandoned, even alienated. Everyone around me has their relationships, their families, their whirls of fellowship and friends. I have nothing of that left to me. I have a few friends here, it’s true, and they’re good friends; but my own closest friends pass through only briefly, or do not ever visit.

So I am probably overdoing the decorating this first winter solstice completely alone; I am probably trying too hard to remind myself of the light and joy of this time of year, to keep the darkness at bay. But I am doing it for myself, if for no one else: because I need these reminders, because I need to feel like the winter won’t swallow me; because I need to feel less alone and alienated, less separated from everything I have ever loved, and everyone. This ritual of remembrance is for we, the living. Just connecting is a struggle, and takes all my energy. Anything beyond that is something welcome but unexpected.

I plan to leave these trees up and decorated till after my birthday, which comes less than a month after Xmas, in mid-january. I always felt short-changed by that, when so many of my friends had summer birthdays. (On the other hand, winter's child is who I am, in so many ways.) My parents often left their Xmas trees up till my birthday, which was kind and thoughtful of them. They knew how much I liked trees filled with light, and they liked being able to add something to my birthday celebrations, to make up for its close proximity to Xmas.

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Blogger Rachel Fox said...

Thanks for sharing your trees and your thoughts. Quite a few of the other bloggers are Christians so I know my idea of Xmas and theirs is quite different. I love to read about older customs and the tree in our front room (that we put up yesterday) will always be a solstice tree to me now!
p.s. if you lived nearer I'd make you come for Xmas whether you liked it or not!

11:41 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Art, I've just been letting off a bit of steam on my blog about the nature of our online relationships and granted they are part-fabrication but not all. You do have people to share with. It's just the relationships may not be as reciprocal as we might like. So often we give more than we receive. You certainly do. Just tote up the thousands of words you share almost daily with the few dozen-word comments you get back. When I lived alone I never put up a tree. Now I do. If Carrie dies before me I'll probably keep it up as a way of remembering her. I do suppose then that what are more-or-less routines now will become traditions in the years to come. And that's really all traditions are, habits that get out of hand a bit.

As for the birthday being so close to Xmas, I get that: my mother was born on Boxing Day. Some people leave up their Xmas trees all year you know.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


I've thought of them as Solstice Trees since I discovered the pre-Christian origins of the tradition from northern Europe. That was in my teens. I guess I've been a pagan a long time. :)

If I lived nearer, I'd be there. Thanks.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Jim, thanks for the thoughts. You're right about the nature of the relationships. I've always known that I get a lot more hits than comments; that's probably just the nature of the beast, and normal. Like you, though, I certainly do like a strong dialogue.

Part of the isolation I've been feeling this winter, here in this small Wisconsin town, is purely that I have more contact with friends via phone and email than I do face to face. It gets so you just want to have a cup of tea together, and talk face to face.

You're right about traditions, of course: every tradition is an invented tradition. All of them are accrued habits and patterns over time.

I have thought that this first year alone may be exceptional, or it may generate some new, personal traditions, that I'll choose to keep up. I've long understood the importance of invented personal rituals, and the benefits they give towards one's own mental health. (Thus perhaps are eccentricities born.)

Thanks for your words, though. It helps me a lot to feel recognized, even just for a moment, that I do indeed give out more than I receive. I always have. I can't seem to shake the habit, and I'm not sure I should. But it's nice that someone occasionally notices. That goes a long way towards making it all feel better. So, thanks again.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

I like the idea of keeping traditions going and also of acknowledging the older traditions behind Christmas.

I also really like your mindset about decorating the trees being a ritual about remembrance this year.

I'm sorry that you feel alienated to some extent this Christmas, i too wouldn't want to intrude on other people's parties at this time of year but then there is an expectation around that 'we're all having fun at ths time of year aren't we?' which can be very isolating if that's not what you want, for whatever reason

6:32 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Your last point is especially true for people who are going through the grief process. The holidays are especially tough, because one doesn't feel like celebrating, and the pressure to feel only good joys and happy moments is very strong. I saw this at Hospice this year, more than once, with parents who were going through grief at the death of a son or daughter; and also with those who had lost a parent, or some other family member. You're not ready yet to feel the Holiday spirit, you need more time to feel what you feel. The problem is, there is a strong push towards suppressing those feelings, so the feelings of isolation come from not being in sync with everyone else, and not being able to feel what one is "supposed" to be feeling during the holidays. It can be awful, frankly.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Knits with Penguins said...

My Dearest, Darling Stick,
Do the trees make you happy? Does the act of decorating them fill you with joy and comfort? Are they things of beauty that you have just shared, via pictures, with your friends who cannot be with you? I think the answer to these questions is "Yes". Do what makes you happy. Feel what you want. Nobody is the boss of you but you.
Except for maybe me. (Snort)
Hugs and all that Mushy stuff,

3:52 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

B, Who Knits With Penguins, you evil genius you,

"Yes" to all those. But you already knew that.

Didn't the theme music for "Malcolm In the Middle" have the phrase, "You're not the boss of me now / You're not the boss of me now!"

For what it's worth.

8:40 PM  

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