December 2012—it is supposedly the last month in the world. Yesterday did dawn with the date being 1212012, but since the local tree farm opened its gates yesterday, my family set out to select a tree anyway. As we wandered amid the pines it was clear that for many the iconic sign of Christmas is the tree. We learned on our first year in New Jersey that you’d better not wait until reasonably close to Christmas to pick out a tree—we visited this very lot then only to discover that precut trees were all that were available (and they were from Pennsylvania) and we had established a tradition of picking our own. Getting to know the tree first. Walking around and looking from all angles, trying to learn if it was healthy or too dry. Were there any gaping gaps that would be an obvious problem? Hard to tell when the tree is wrapped up in fishnet plastic and tucked into a corner like an old umbrella. Here, so close to the Big Apple, you need to claim your tree early. If you don’t want to cut it down right away, you can tag it—claim it as your own and come back later to chop it down. We weren’t the only ones taking great care in selecting.
Tree farming is a business with a long view. Trees don’t mature overnight. When it’s the last month of the world, one must take these weighty things into consideration. Even before this terminal date, you would need to make an awful lot of money in just one month of the year to keep the business going. Maybe they need a green Christmas. Of course, greenery in winter symbolizes life in the midst of death. The germanic originators of the tradition were keeping a very appropriate pagan idea alive when they dedicated their trees to Christmas. Last year when we couldn’t have a real tree, it felt like we’d lost a friend. Our tree farming friends know that feeling very well.
The “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs and bumper stickers have begun sprouting up in yards and on bumpers in their annual exuberance. Funny thing is, Christmas has its base in ancient pagan customs. To hear the Bible tell it, Jesus’ birth was an understated event. The only people who had an angelic concert were some shepherds (we don’t know how many) on the hills outside of a small town. And, as far was we can tell, it would have probably been in April. As the days grow wearily short, however, we need a little light to keep us going. That was the pagan wisdom behind the Yule Log and various festivals of light to encourage nature to bring some brightness back. These short days can be difficult enough even in the age of artificial light and constantly glowing electronic screens. And knowing this is the last month of the world, we want to festoon our trees with tiny pinpoints of expectation and hope that nature somehow gets the message that we’ve had enough of darkness and wish for a 2013 redolent with light. But we’ll just have to wait and see.