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Down the Road

Ye Olde Christmas tree
By Milton M. Gross
Dec 15, 2013 - 12:27:31 AM

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A good non-Christian Christmas tradition, replayed over and over.

Today we're going out to bring home our Christmas tree. Actually, this year's Christmas tree is already home. It's in the woods just beyond our upper driveway, which is a horseshoe shaped driveway so we can get home from either top or bottom.

We will brave it way beyond that upper driveway at least 15 feet and saw the three-inch trunk and wrestle the six-foot critter to the upper driveway. Then bring it into the house to drive the cat nuts.

This will be, let's see,, geez, I have no idea how many Christmas trees we've brought inside and decorated for the kitties to undecorate. Maybe I can figure this out. I'm 29.5, and we've been together for 14 years, and before that my first wife and I were together 25 years, and before that I was a young adult, and before that I was a kid. I quit; I'm terrible at math.

I think I remember my childhood ones the most. We walked over to the village, bought one, and dragged it home that mile or so. I don't recall who did the dragging, probably Dead old Dad. Getting it up and decorated was a major deal, but when it was up and decorated, it was huge. Then we kids were off to bed, only to find piles and piles of presents under that tree Christmas morning.

Pretty typical American Christmas. My favorite gifts were the eight or ten books my mother and father....or was it Santa? me. I spent Christmas day reading those wonderful horse stories by Walter Farley, dog stories by the writer (whose name I forget but which is right there on the tip of my tongue) lived in northern New Jersey, Thirty Seconds Over Tokoyo, and a pile more.

I don't remember anything about the Baby Jesus, but, hey, it was Christmas. There was too much fun to be had to worry about the Baby Jesus. We didn't go to church on or just before Christmas. When I was a minister, I led those Christmas services. But I hated to go to church on Christmas. Christmas was for the tree, the gifts, and now in our non-doting years, for watching the kitties wreak havoc with the part of the tree they can reach.

The history of that famous tree: from a website, "Just as people today decorate their homes during the festive season with pine, spruce, and fir trees, ancient peoples hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness."

Never thought about ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. But illness makes this holiday really tough for too many people.

"The ancient Egyptians worshipped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness (I'm not certain what illness), the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death." Maybe they were mistaken, and it really wasn't Christmas. Maybe it was RaRa Day.

Was Jesus in the Manger at Bethlehem during the solstice...on RaRa Day?

"In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. 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," the same website states. This is beginning to sound a little familiar. But where were the piles of toys?

That website tells a more familiar tale, "It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles." I think I remember that tradition in our house.

Being possibly realistic, what if Martin Luther wasn't composing a sermon that evening? What if he was complaining about the cold and how in a few centuries, commercialism would replace the true meaning of Christmas with corporate profits?

That site continues, "Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans." The site also states that the Germans decorated Christmas trees in their homes....this was in Germany not in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

My father was German, and he taught me a sentence in the German language but then said I should never repeat it aloud. Besides, I don't remember it. And it has nothing to do with Christmas.

I remember a historic tree two of us cut over in western Maine, outside of South Paris. It was big! Big! And my chainsaw got caught when it tilted just a bit. My friend had to use his chainsaw to free mine. But we got that Christmas tree beastie down and home.

When I was a teacher, the eighth graders brought us a Christmas tree. It turned out to be a cat spruce, which when we stood it up inside our house became obvious. Guess which animal's pee a cat spruce smells like. (No, not a reindeer's.) Guess I didn't quite teach those eighth graders enough. Or did they choose a cat spruce for their "favorite" teacher?

But this is today, we're heading out to capture our tree. It's about 100 feet from our door, but it's about 15 or 20 degrees out there. I'll need my L.L. Bean boots, to keep snow out of my ankles, my mittens from on top of the refrigerator, a warm jacket to brave the winter cold (just before winter arrives), the small bow saw that is out in the shed, Dolores to aim me at the correct tree that she found, and the courage to step outside.

It's pretty cold out there. Maybe we should wait until next Christmas. No, no, I was only kidding. I'll be right there as soon as I finish writing about going out in the cold to cut our Christmas tree.

There is one Christmas tree that will likely never see its duty in that role. Five summers ago, I dug up a small one that was in the woods at the lower edge of our yard. I replanted it at the edge of our garden with the idea that when it grew some, I would cut it for our Christmas tree. When it was three feet tall, our snowplow guy hit it, breaking it partly off and bending it. I straightened it and did no more, not knowing what a tree doctor would do. It kept growing, and as I look out the study window I see all nine feet of it standing straight, tall, and perhaps somewhat proud.

I no longer think it has to worry about becoming a Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas, tree!

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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