So Christmas trees, it seems, have spindly tops and broad-based bottoms this year, because there have been a couple of mild winters.
Those commenting haven't seemed to mind too much, because seemingly the broad spaces between the higher branches make the trees easier to decorate, with large hanging baubles and lots of room for lights - or perhaps tinsel, if tinsel isn't 'out' again this year. The spruce, as it were, is more easily spruced up. Although expert growers say that cold winters are best for producing the ideal or perfect Christmas tree, it seems that the trees resulting from recent mild winters are pretty customer-friendly, with silky needles and 'shoulders' ideal for the displaying of a star.
Articles about this Christmas tree phenomenon also suggests that bringing a real tree into the home increases people's well-being and raises moods, as opposed to the ongoing fatigue generated by the artificial environments we live in being exacerbated further by using an artificial Christmas tree. And this makes my heart sink. I know. I admit it. Hands up, and all that: we have an artificial tree at home. In my defence, it's so realistic that it drops (plastic) needles on the floor and I give it a baleful glance as I hoover them up, but it lives in a box in the attic all year and is rebuilt carefully, branch by colour-coded branch, each December. Mea culpa... but then again. I know we're all born to die, but it's always struck me as a bit sad that beautiful Christmas trees are grown in farms and forests, picked and brought home with excitement and a twinkling of emotion, decorated and admired, but then heaved, dying, into skips as January begins. Sometimes it's not even New Year before the skips begin to fill with disconsolate, withering trees: first felled, now fallen. 'I just get sick of the sight of the thing once I've been to the sales on the 27th,' a friend told me last year. 'The decorations are gone in the shops; you can buy your cards and baubles for next year at half price, so what's the point in keeping the tree up at home? No: come the 28th, it's got to go.'
Writing this, I'm not feeling inspired by Christmas cheer. Having only just avoided a hurtling overtaking car this morning - more a case of ruthless than of reckless driving - I'm feeling a bit 'bah humbug' about Christmas parties or the rush to buy the perfect gifts. My spindly top isn't feeling very festive: my mind is more fraught with all the things I have to do, and worrying that I won't do these things well enough, than with actually enjoying the festivities ahead. I've been told, repeatedly, that I'm 'not looking very festive', because Christmas jumpers and tinsel earrings and wearing a Santa hat has never, ever, been my style. Mea maxima culpa... I'll admit to it again...
We're just like Christmas trees, really: we're products of the environment we're grown in. How we're based on the ground and how we reach upwards as we strive to improve how we live our lives is based precisely in the climate which surrounds us. Celebration might all feel quite artificial: we can 'mock the time with fairest show' but the thoughts behind the fairylights might not always be completely festive. Whoever thought that, just because it's Christmas, complete, genuine merriment should be enforced anyway? What: no light and shade? In a fully lit living room, the fairylights on a Christmas tree blend and disappear; they really only show up properly in the darkness. I'm not advocating misery, but without quietness or a little bit of shadow, how can the lights of happiness be seen?
Perhaps it's easy to put on a show of glittering happiness when things are calm. Perhaps it's easy to smile and obey the songs that tell us to be 'merry and bright' if you don't think about it too much, but just scream 'It's Christ-maaaaassssss!' and garland yourself in tinselly jollity. With mildness, after all, we're easier to decorate. But perhaps it's more real to know that wintertime is about thinking back as well, to lost times, lost people, lost opportunities... bleak midwinters but with brighter days ahead? Does a little bit of cold and darkness make us all less decorative and less cheery, but allow us a little more thinking time to consider experiences which won't just be thrown, withering, in a skip when the days move on and they don't seem as if they're worth having any more? Did Shakespeare have a point when he wrote that 'a sad tale's best for winter'?
I know. I can be the spectre at any feast, the person deep in thought, the one you don't really notice on the sidelines. Neither decorative nor highly decorated. Maybe I'm exhausted by an artificial environment, or just too prone to seeing the dropped needles instead of the tree, its journey to the skip instead of the family trip to the Christmas tree farm. Maybe I'm thinking too much again. Underneath the baubles and the fairlylights is a living thing, controlled by how it grew. We're just the same. It's not 'bah humbug': it's just life. And if Christmas celebrates life, then maybe that surrounding darkness has a place as well.
Maybe the fairylights which shine out in the darkness have a message after all.