Christmas trees and the winter solstice go together; According to History.com,
Many ancient people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick and weak. They celebrated the solstice because it meant that at last the sun god would begin to get well. Evergreen boughs reminded them of all the green plants that would grow again when the sun god was strong and summer would return.
I have always thought that this was a great day worth celebrating; as I noted in an earlier post, “for those of us in the northern hemisphere, every day will be a little bit brighter and a little bit longer.” I have also always tried to ignore the Christmas tree that my wife puts up in our living room, part of her Christian heritage but not my Jewish heritage. But now that I learn that it is in fact “a symbol of immortality, fertility, and the resurrection of the sun god” I look at it in a whole new way. I can get into that.
It also gives us a different way of looking at the big tree in Montreal that is all over the news. It was supposed to be taller than the famous tree in Rockefeller Center, perhaps the world’s most famous. Alas, they failed; not only is the New York tree taller (at 94 feet) but it looks a lot better. Everybody is making fun of the Montreal tree, calling it tacky and worse.
Montreal's Christmas tree looks like it was just released from Xmas tree rehab and needs any spare change you might have for a bus ride home pic.twitter.com/DbcHdy28M6— zak (@zaktebbal) December 6, 2016
The Montreal tree is mocked as being skinny and crooked and looks like its top was chopped off; the New York tree was no prize either, but as Robert Everett-Green notes in the Globe and Mail, it did what a lot of people in New York do.
…the New York tree had the good sense to get some work done. Branches were trimmed and perfected through all the arts available to cosmetic surgeons for trees. No way was that spruce going to pose for a million selfies in its natural condition.
The New York tree also had the good sense to get parked in one of the most iconic spots in the known universe, right in front of Rockefeller Center, shown here in 1998 to give context.
if you thought montreal couldn't get any more embarrassing, this is the tree we have downtown to compete with ny's rockafeller centre tree pic.twitter.com/TrPFPyadDt— cassandra c! (@hnsc_cass) December 3, 2016
The Montreal tree is in a parking lot in front of the Hyatt, which doesn’t inspire in quite the same way. As Robert Everett Green notes,
The New York tree also has the benefit of a stately placement, in a grand plaza flanked by tall buildings. The Montreal tree’s environment is much less favourable. It stands incongruously near a string of small holiday-market kiosks, like a lonely guest with a growth-hormone disorder.
Now we Canadians are known for being polite and deferential saying sorry for everything; even our buses say sorry when they get stuck. But I am not going to say sorry for this tree. I am going to quote Robert Everett Green one last time:
The funny thing is that the original point of honouring an evergreen during the shortest days of the year had nothing to do with shape. When every other plant in the landscape has lost its leaves or vanished under the snow, trees such as fir and spruce remind us that life persists in the harshest conditions. That would have been a potent message in the days when Quebeckers could eat only what local farms could produce.
Perfect trees are few and far between; perhaps they should be the ones that are left in the ground for people to admire for years to come. Instead, cut the regular, natural looking tree that is more representative of what life is like, which is not always beautiful and perfect. The regular Christmas tree is part of a cycle where the tree absorbs carbon as it grows, then it is mulched and used to help other things grow. The perfect tree should be left alone.
And I am going think differently about our Solstice Tree, which was quite bent and ugly in the yard, and think about immortality, fertility and those longer, sunny days to come, starting tomorrow.