Tag Archives: Christmas Trees

Christmas Oratio by W.H. Auden

Christmas Oratio
by W. H. Auden

Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school.  There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.  Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.  The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this.  To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened.  Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering.  So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine.  In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance.  The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
that God’s Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.


Nostalgia and Common Sense

When I was about 10 years old, I thought my mother was cheap when it came to Christmas tree decorating.  We had only 2 or 3 boxes of ornaments — and I didn’t like any of them!  I always wanted her to buy us more.  After working on the lights this evening, I’ve changed my mind.

I strung 3 long strands of lights, making sure each strand lit before I wound it around the tree.  I had finished about half the tree when I plugged the three strands together.   Sparks didn’t fly, but I did hear one strand pop.  The string of lights was gone, filler for the kitchen trashcan.  The strings were old so I wasn’t surprised that one of them didn’t work.   I just wish it had happened before it went on the tree.   With not enough white lights to finish the tree, I had to switch to strands of the multi-colored lights — after I removed the strands already on the tree.

By the time I checked another 5 strands of lights and placed them on the tree, I was tired. But, since I had opened one container of ornaments, I dug deep to find the motivation to get those 100 ornaments on the tree.   One hour later, my tree, while not finished, looks okay.  I may leave it as-is.

Why?   I’ve reassessed my mother’s tree-trimming days of my childhood.   I think that the small allotment of ornaments she owned was not due to frugality.   She wasn’t cheap; she was tired.  We had exactly the number of ornaments that she had energy to hang once the kids grew tired of decorating the tree.

Hanging ornaments this evening, I thought about those ornaments and grew a bit nostalgic over them.   What happened to them? I wondered.

And then my senses came back to me:  those ornaments are still ugly and I don’t have the energy to put out all the ornaments I already own!


A few ramblings on Christmas Trees

Growing up, we were never allowed to put up the Christmas tree until after my father’s birthday which was a week before Christmas.  We sat slack-jawed at the trees in neighbors’ home that appeared before Thanksgiving Turkey had been digested.   If packages appeared underneath that tree, our jealousy was even greater.

Once, when my son was about 8, we bought a live tree on the way home from a late November soccer game.  It was a delightful sacrilege to inhale the pine aroma each morning and to sit in my darkened living room watching the tree lights twinkle.

I haven’t put up a tree yet this year, though I have managed to pull a few boxes out of storage already.  It may be up at the end of this week — just a few days before my father’s birthdate.   I wonder what he would think?   Perhaps, if he didn’t have to put up a tree or string lights on a house — two tasks he really did not like to do — he wouldn’t have minded so much.


My favorite thing about Christmas lights in looking at them in the dark.  If I remove my glasses, it is even better as the lights bend and blur in a dark sea of color.  This is much more fun with strands of color lights, but I prefer to decorate my tree with white lights.


Nothing beats the scent of a real tree.  Yet, I hate the idea of chopping down a perfectly good tree to stand in your living room for a few weeks at the end of the year.   Once you hang the lights and add ornaments and tinsel, there is nothing “natural” about the tree.   There is nothing “natural” about a tree in your house, unless it is after a sever storm and you really don’t want one then!  I’m sticking with my artificial tree, currently residing half-time in a box, the rest on the closet floor, in the basement.   Despite it only consisting of four pieces, I will still struggle to get them in the right arrangement that will allow for it to stand on its own.


The best artificial trees are ones that seem to have holes in them, just like those in the natural world.  Perhaps I just feel this way because every artificial tree I’ve owned as been less-than-perfect — and, thus,  looked very real.


Despite my Yule decorations looking like Charlie Brown’s, my favorite Christmas show of all time is How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  I memorized the poem in 5th grade, but my favorite parts of the show are not in Dr. Seuss’ original.   I will hum “You’re a mean one, MR. GRINCH”, as I wrap presents.   The incongruence of this just makes me smile.  “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch.  You’re a nasty wasty skunk. Your heart is full of unwashed socks. Your soul is full of gunk, Mr Grinch.  The three best words that best describe you, Are as follows, and I quote:  “Stink! Stank! Stunk! “


It is likely that I’ve read Robert Frost’s Christmas Trees previously, but I didn’t recall it when I read it this evening.   It is a lovely poem.   Like Frost, I wish that I could mail you a Christmas tree.


The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine,
I said, “There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north.
He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas


When addressing family and friends – people who I know — I will typically say Merry Christmas unless I know that they do not celebrate it.  To everyone else, I will say Happy Holidays.   This is not some media-coerced attempt at Political Correctness.  I think it is politeness.   I don’t buy the Fox News malarkey (a word which I used before VP Biden did; thanks, Joe!) about a “war on Christmas”.   Explaining why I am NOT offended by someone happily wishing me a Happy Holiday would take an entire post, but I do not feel that I could state it as well as it is in this post:  Top Ten Reasons Christians Should Stop Whining About Secular XMas.    Regardless of how you feel on the topic, whether you are religious or not, Christian or Pagan or Jew or Atheist, you should read it.

For the record, I agree with every bit of it.