Since the kids have grown up and had kids of their own, it’s very seldom we are all together at the same time for meaningful activities anymore. But Saturday turned out to be very magical for us in that way. We got our first real snow (which only amounted to less than an inch, but hey!) while all of my kids were at the house with their children, so we decided to put up the Christmas tree together.
We’ve been using an artificial tree the last few years, but found when we hauled it out of the shed that mice had made their home in its branches this past season and had peed all over it! Sorry, not putting the lovely odor of mouse pee all up in my house for Christmas!
So it was snowing, all the kids and grandkids were there together… seemed like perfect timing to go out in the woods and find a live tree this year. And that’s just what we did. It was a very special memory we made together, all of us bundled up tromping through the woods, AND we found a beautiful, fat cedar in the perfect shape. It’s bare on one side, but with that side against the wall you can’t really tell.
At first I had a few reservations about cutting down a perfectly healthy and living tree just to indulge our holiday hoopla, but I have since come to terms with that. Part of being on a spiritual and sacred earth walk means understanding that all living things participate and contribute to the whole of life, sometimes in life and sometimes in death.
We take the lives of plants and animals everyday to sustain and enhance our own lives. The hard truth of the matter is that no life can continue unless something else dies to feed it. I also believe that in some mysterious way, when we honor and gratefully receive these gifts, each living being that gives its life does so as a willing participant. It is good to honor these everyday sacrifices and give heartfelt thanks when we eat a meal, use a plant for medicine, or even cut down a live Christmas tree.
I believe that in the grand scheme of the Universe, this particular tree we brought home grew in that very spot, to just the right size and shape, for just that moment when it gave its life to be a part of our family’s unity and love. We will honor and embrace that sacrifice.
When I went to put water into the tree stand after we had set it up, one of the grandchildren asked me if the tree was going to keep growing. I told him, no, it would begin to dry out and it would die within a few weeks. He was sad about that and thought maybe we shouldn’t have cut it down. I had to scramble to explain to him the understanding I had come to about life and death and this humble tree, in a way that he could understand. I also wanted to find a way that we could honor the tree’s life, one that would be meaningful to the children.
What we came up with was that after Christmas, when we take down all the decorations, we will carry our tree to our bonfire spot and have a grand smudging ceremony! Cedar is a traditional sacred smudging herb, and this seems a fitting end for our lovely tree. We will thank our tree for being part of our family celebrations and for making our holiday so special. Then we will burn the tree and watch it’s spirit rise up to return to the Great Spirit, carrying our prayers with it. The children think this is a great idea and they are excited.
I used to feel so sad when, the week after Christmas, I would drive through my city and see all the dead and discarded Christmas trees lying on the curbs up and down the streets, with stray pieces of tinsel still clinging in odd places, just waiting for the garbage trucks. The holiday was over and now they were just thrown out like nothing special, the people moving unceremoniously on to the next thing. I am very glad to have found a way to make the death of our Christmas tree just as meaningful and special as all the rest of our celebrations.
Bringing an evergreen tree into the house to decorate and celebrate around is but one of the many ways to mark the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, with the days growing longer and longer thereafter. Many religious mythologies symbolize this phenomena of “light triumphing over darkness.” Whether you celebrate the return of the sun to longer days, or the coming of the Son, or something else entirely, may you all find special meaning for this holiday season.