Until recently I was one of those people who grumbled after Thanksgiving about Christmas besieging us too early. I complained about getting the tree and wrestling it inside. I muttered while bringing boxes of decorations down from the attic, and I flew into a rage if the process of putting lights on the tree took too long (which it always did). One year, I even made my stepdaughter put ornaments on the tree without me.
What was I thinking?
This afternoon, after helping my mother put up her Christmas tree, I drove to the lot and brought ours home. It snowed this morning, the first snowfall of the year in our part of southeastern Massachusetts, and the wet snow melted onto our living room floor as I settled it into its tree stand. Nothing that three beach towels spread around it couldn’t take care of.
After it had dried off, I turned on a CD of English Christmas carols and strung the lights. The disk is called “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and it features the Cambridge University choir, with boy sopranos in nearly every track. They are mournful and quiet and evoke the early nightfall of rural England. They are perfect to listen to with a fire burning in the fireplace.
There is something about this aspect of Christmas–the part that acknowledges the onset of winter and the hardships that must have settled over the English countryside in the 17th and 18th centuries, when many of these carols were written–that makes me melancholy, but not dreadfully. The tunes always make me want to cry, though not just from sadness.
Today, alone in the house trimming the tree, I was trying to understand it. Eventually I decided that it has to do with a baby being born the child of God, arriving weak and hungry, as babies do, but bearing the hopes of shepherds, priests, and kings. Such a humble start. I kept seeing in my mind’s eye the baby, wrapped tight and laid in straw by his mother, with grown men down on their knees in front of him.