Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Odds and Ends

(News-Herald, December 26) I am one of the few remaining people I know with an actual live (well, previously live but now dying in a seasonally picturesque manner inside my house) Christmas tree. The market must be shrinking because it has gotten progressively harder over recent years to track down a chunk of non-artificial holiday lumber in Venangoland.
After years of bouncing between road-side vendors, I’ve been driven to Home Depot. Apparently I’m not unusual; according to the Associated Press, Home Depot is the top seller of yule foliage in the US, with anticipated sales of 2 million trees. That doesn’t seem like a large number, but last year there were only 31.2 million live trees sold nationwide.
Other tree facts from the National Christmas Tree Association: In 2007, there were 17.4 million fake trees sold. Of the real tree sales, 23 percent were at chain stores, 21 percent at cut-your-own farms, 20 percent at garden/nursery centers, 12 percent from some lot, and 15 percent from “other.”
The NCTA wants you to know that real trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, that real trees are biodegradable while fake trees are not, and that there are more than 4000 US Christmas Tree recycling programs. They also helpfully note that almost all fake trees are made by impoverished Chinese laborers out of materials that may include poisonous lead. And on top of that, fake trees were first marketed by the Addis Brush Company, whose usual products were toilet bowl brushes. Or, as the NCTA website puts it, “the first fake Christmas trees were really just big green toilet bowl brushes.” I want to root for the real tree guys, but they do sound just a tad desperate.
I am not sure how a recycling program for trees would work. Old friends of mine would occasionally leave the tree up till it had dropped every needle, then repaint the remainder white and call it an Easter tree. I have never gone quite that far, by which I mean that I have never painted one of my dead, nude trees white. As far as recycling, I find the tree makes a nice June campfire.
Before you start mocking those of us who keep festive trappings up, I will remind you that Christmas, properly observed as a religious holiday, consists of twelve days (sound familiar?) of which December 25 is merely the first. Christmas is not over till January 5, so I will leave my lights up for a while yet, thankyouverymuch.
According to the federal agricultural census, if you want to rank states’ Christmas tree-inees by number of trees or number of tree-yielding acres, Pennsylvania is #4. By number of farms, we are #1. Alaska, Nevada, and Arizona bring up the rear in all three categories.
I like my live tree, though I can’t offer much of a rational explanation for it. I suppose that’s also true of the date. While most of us know of December 25 as a date co-opted from pagan celebrations, I have actually seen a theory for a more Christian background. Some ancient Jews believed that the prophets of Israel died on the day of their conception. So early Christians could have worked from the widely believed March 25 crucifixion date and come up with December 25 as Jesus’s birthday.
Neither chopped up fir foliage or dates of dubious origin serve as the oddest of seasonal factoids. Researchers claim that the holiday season is a peak time for making holiday whoopee, a claim supported by a reported spike in September births.
And no holiday tradition beats the Spanish habit, particular in Catalonia, of including a caganer in nativity scenes. For those who are unilingual, “caganer” translates roughly as “pooper.” Since the 17th century, folks in Spain (and parts of France) include one, off in the corner somewhere being indelicate. Children apparently enjoy this tradition as a nativity Where’s Waldo game.
Since 1974, American Christmas has also been marked by large gatherings of tuba players; Tuba Christmas has cropped up in over 200 cities with peak numbers of over 450 players.
Do we humans become ridiculous at this time of year? Perhaps, but I like to think that it just highlights our humanity at the same time that we are remembering and honoring the Divine. Tradition is also useful because we don’t have to argue about what we want to do or who’s in charge or what it all means; just smile sweetly and follow what we already understand.

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