I bought my first Christmas tree when I was seven months pregnant and couldn’t bend over. My husband comes from a family which happily decorates two massive 10 feet high artificial Christmas trees every year. For those reasons, I was more than happy to buy a fake Christmas tree, way back in 2011, and thought nothing more about it, apart feeling vaguely smug that I didn’t have to hoover up pine needles every winter.
And then something changed.
It might have been the dementia that gripped a relative this year and the ongoing pain this has caused her family. It might have been the subsequently vindictive neighbour who kickstarted an ongoing legal battle that two loved ones are currently right in the middle of, losing sleep, happiness and sanity. It could have been watching people I love experience separation, anxiety, panic attacks and cancer, not to mention the bombs, airstrikes and generally pointless bigotry, pain and death that fill my newsfeed every day.
This year, I watched my husband and daughter take a fake tree out of a bin bag and I knew it was time for something more. As my brain pounded with tiredness and panic, we piled into our van and set off on a late afternoon shopping tree spree. We bought our tree from the Arnos Vale Cemetery, a place of peace. It was way too expensive but we got it anyway, found a tree stand, stood our tree in it, decorated it, and switched the lights on.
That was two weeks ago. The tree has exerted its own magic over me. What my mother calls my ‘weltschmerz’ (world-pain) has lifted. I’ve wrapped presents underneath it, drunk red wine close by it, and stretched out on the sofa next to it, a beautiful cat purring on my stomach and read my book, an almost inconceivable luxury. (The tree made me do it.) It’s brought a sense of calm and optimism in the house. I feel it in every room.
The tradition of bringing a tree into the house for Christmas dates back to Germany in the early 1500s, although the Pagans were massive fans of worshipping and celebrating trees. And I can see why. When the rest of the world is dead, rotting and dark, filling your house with green mistletoe, holly and trees is the most audaciously perfect solution. This would never be decided on in a focus group. Who else but the pagans would decide that trees were the solutions to everything?
And I’ll tell you what else is bloody great about Christmas trees. They don’t really work on sunny winter days – they need darkness all around them to shine. And there’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere about how we need pain and darkness to help us find our own happiness, but I need to go and water my tree again so I’ll leave that one with you.