Oh, Christmas Tree

This very real looking artificial tree is easily 20 feet tall.

This very real looking artificial tree is easily 20 feet tall.

The tree is set and ready for the lines to start.

The tree is set and ready for the lines to start.

I love the lighted gifts hanging from the ceiling.

I love the lighted gifts hanging from the ceiling.

Twiggy's rear end is just in the lower left.  Tisen seems to want more lap time when Twiggy is around.

Twiggy’s rear end is just in the lower left. Tisen seems to want more lap time when Twiggy is around.

The bench is ready for Santa to come and visit with the children.

The bench is ready for Santa to come and visit with the children.

The bridge to the Asia exhibit makes for lovely lighting.

The bridge to the Asia exhibit makes for lovely lighting.

 

I’m glad I have the photos of the Chattanooga Zoo Christmas tree–it’s the closest I will come to a tree this year.  Having given up long ago on decorating for Christmas because we were always gone for the holidays, we, of course, have decided to stay at home this year.

This is because we have just moved.  We moved about 500 yards from one building to another.  The new building is nicer with a little more space and a lot more quiet.  But I’m not sure deciding to move on the Monday a week before Christmas was such a smart idea.

Even having downsized 3x, we still have boxes of stuff we don’t know what to do with.  I don’t know how this happens.  Furniture, papers, boxes multiple in the dark much like wire hangers and dust bunnies.  Like goldfish, we grow to the maximum size the walls of our container will allow.

I suppose from that standpoint, right before Christmas is the perfect time to move–it’s a great reminder that we really don’t need these things that take over our space.  Plus, having to buy a new washer and dryer, blinds, and closet organizers can serve as our Christmas gifts.  The new washer and dryer just got installed this morning.  Just in time–we were running out of clean unmentionables.

On the down side, the move motivated me to go shopping yesterday evening after work.  I think it has been so long since I went shopping on the last Friday evening before Christmas that I had forgotten what that would be like.

I made it to the grocery store, the dog store, Target, and Lowes.  I needed to go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but I couldn’t take it.  My shopping tolerance was exceeded at Target and I still didn’t have any Christmas lights for our balcony, so I skipped getting towels and went to Lowes for a lighted garland instead.  My homage to Christmas.

I nearly walked out of Target leaving my cart full of bulk toilet paper and miscellaneous supplies behind when I saw the lines.  Fortunately, not everyone had figured out there were two rows of registers, so I was able to find a short line just in the nick of time.  I really had had it by the time I got to that line.

The dogs were also starting to get impatient.  As much as they love going along for a ride, they prefer not having to hang out in the car for too long.  When I came out of Target, Tisen had taken up sentinel position in the driver’s seat.  He looked very alert.  This is usually a good indicator it’s getting close to dinner time.

Tonight, I look at the date and realize it’s almost the 23rd.  I haven’t bought a single gift or even thought about doing cards yet.  I guess my nephews won’t be getting their Christmas presents on time this year!

 

A Month Before Christmas

Here we are, a month before Christmas, and I am realizing we are going to be home in Chattanooga for Christmas this year.  Having just returned from visiting family for Thanksgiving, I find myself feeling a bit nostalgic for the old days when family from both sides was within a 3 hour drive.

Combine that with the sudden nip in the air and I find myself wistfully wishing I had a few things to look forward to.

For one, gifts piled under a Christmas tree.  There was a time when I would put up a tree and wrap all the gifts early just because I liked the way they looked. I was known for taking ridiculous care in wrapping packages, always folding every crease, never leaving a cut edge exposed, and often hand making bows from interesting ribbons.

These days, I think more about using up leftover wrapping paper, recycling old paper or gift bags, or having things gift wrapped at the store.

As my nephews have gotten older, the things they want have gotten smaller and more expensive resulting in paltry stack that barely occupies the corner of a table, let alone fills the living room.  It’s a good thing they have also outgrown playing with boxes.

I gave up on having Christmas decorations, including a tree, many years ago.  I found not decorating for Christmas a relief.  The amount of work in exchange for a very small amount of time to enjoy the decorations (since we always went out of town) just didn’t seem worth the trade off.  Especially not in January when we kept procrastinating taking down the outdoor lights in the hope of warmer weather.

Now, I watch the cars driving in and out of the tree lot across the street and find myself tempted to get a tree.  But where would that lead?  Next there would be ornaments, garlands, lights, and icicles.  And it doesn’t stop there.  It’s like a gateway drug to hard-core decorating.  Before you know it, you’re putting snowflakes in the windows, lights on the windowsills, and looking for inflatable, lighted Christmas scenes for the balcony.

Instead of buying a tree, I peruse my old photos in search of Christmases past.  I am reminded of cookies, snow, and our wonderful dogs, past and present.

This will be our first Christmas at home in 21 years.  It will be only our second Christmas without my nephews in those 21 years.  The first time, we were camping in the Everglades.  This year, we will be home with no tree, no lights, no gifts, no family.

Sounds like it’s time to think of a new tradition for Christmas.  Maybe I’ll look into renting a snow making machine–a white Christmas in Chattanooga would truly be a Christmas miracle.

February?

It’s February, right?  I’m prone to confusion on these things, sometimes mistaking Friday for Monday, or, far worse, mistaking Monday for Friday.  On the rare occasions when I still write a check, I often have to ask someone for the date, but I don’t usually mix up which month we’re in.

This year, I have to double check.  The weather feels like April and sometimes even May (in Columbus) but when I look out the window, I see a giant Christmas tree and holiday tinted lights on what are normally golden fixtures.  I suppose if I average December and April, I get to February, so maybe that’s how I can keep track.

I don’t mean to be snide–I still like to believe with childlike naiveté that it’s possible to keep the Christmas spirit alive all year–but I tend to think of the trappings of Christmas like trees and lights and giant blow-up Santas as not having so much to do with the Christmas spirit.  They do, however, take a lot of extra electricity.

I find myself wondering why this town that prides itself on cleaning up its river and developing in environmentally friendly ways supports keeping this all-electric decoration going for nearly 2 months after Christmas.  I wonder exactly when they will turn off the Christmas tree?

It’s actually not a tree at all.  It’s really many strands of lights hung in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Which I like better.  I feel bad when I see a tree that will die soon.  The lights may be killing thousands of trees via strip-mining for coal, but it’s kind of like buying chicken free of feathers, blood, beaks, and feet and all neatly packaged in cellophane.  It allows me the fantasy I’m not responsible for the death of a chicken.  Similarly, the lights-only tree allows me to fantasize I’m not responsible for the death of a tree.

It’s funny how the removal of responsibility allows us to walk away from things, to think “they” should do something about that.  Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do.  Other times, I feel like it’s not my place.  But a lot of the time, I simply fail to do what I believe is right because I don’t want to be the nay-sayer–the pain in the rear who always complicates things.

What is that quote?  “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Apparently it’s a fake quote.  Regardless of whether Burke said it or not, the meaning rings true.  I would not, however, argue that leaving Christmas lights on constitutes the triumph of evil.

In lieu of civic action, I decide I will shoot these remaining Christmas lights from our balcony.  They are approximately a 1/2 mile away on the far side of the river.  I shoot with my 100-400mm lens with the 1.4x extender on it (left over from trying to get a shot of the moon several nights ago).

Christmas Past

It’s still dark out.  There are no hooves clacking on the roof, no “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas” echoing through the air.  But there is something magical about this morning none-the-less.  The sun will start to rise in another hour or so.  By then, my nephews will either get up or we will wake them.  But for now, I sit quietly, alone in the living room, looking at the colored Christmas tree lights reflected in the glass.

A million memories swirl in my brain.  They focus around a Christmas tree and rotate by like a slow moving carousel, colorful and full of laughing children.  There is me and my brother, rushing into the living room of long ago, mouths wide open, amazed at the fancy packages under the tree.  Wrapping paper flies as we tear into that moment of hope and expectation.  We are absolutely convinced that what lies below the paper will fulfill our wildest dreams.

As my carousel of memories continues to rotate, our faces fade as my nephews move into the prominent place on the carousel.  Their eyes amazed, their teeth gleaming as their mouths gape in smiles that couldn’t possibly stretch any wider.  They, too, attack the packages before them.  Once more, wrapping paper flies through the air.  And the carousel rotates again.

Now, I see our parents pretending to love the silly dime store gifts we picked out for them and paid for by saving our allowance.  I see their eyes shining with emotion–a detail I missed when I was a child.

Next, our Grandparents smile nervously and watch us intently while we open gifts.  They strain with their desire to see how happy we are with what they so carefully chose for us.

As the carousel begins another pass, I see our parents again, but now watching my nephews instead of us.  They smile wider and their eyes have a little more twinkle as they open homemade gifts from their grandchildren.

I have few memories of what any of the gifts were, either received or given.  What stays in my mind is that shared moment when a group of people lean forward with barely contained anticipation.  In that single moment, before the first gift is unwrapped, we all share in the possibility that our love for one another will transcend any disappointments, any difficulties, any trials or tribulations and we will achieve the perfect manifestation of love through the act of giving.

That is the moment I look forward to every Christmas.  When people ask why can’t Christmas last all year, this is the moment I imagine hanging onto year round.  That perfect moment that is absent of disappointment, history, baggage, judgment.  That perfect moment when the excitement that we might be able to amaze and delight those we love electrifies the air.

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.  ~Bob Hope