I’ve been thinking about the magical nature of Christmas Trees. I’m not prone to magical thinking. I’m an atheist in the habit of rational thought, plagued by the need to analyse data and test conclusions, but I can see for myself that some Christmas Trees are magical. We grant them a meaning and an emotional gravity that gives them power over our moods, our memories and our actions. We make them magical by the silent exercising of collective will. Year after year we create and sustain a totemic relationship with our Christmas Trees. They are powerful artefacts that we use to enrich the narrative that tells us who we have been, who we are and who we hope to be.
This isn’t true of all Christmas Trees. Most of the public Christmas Trees are entirely secular, a commercial encouragement to shop, or a municipal acknowledgement of a communal desire to celebrate. These trees are only ornaments intended to remind us of our affiliations and our narrative without actually being part of them They have no magic because we don’t grant it to them.
There are exceptions. Some Christmas Trees in public spaces have power over specific communities. The magic is week but it’s there is you listen for it. I found an example yesterday when my wife and I went to BookBarn to donate some books. In my head, BookBarn is linked to a particular kind of book-lover. The kind who would never just throw a book away if it’s still in good enough repair to be read by someone. The kind for whom browsing physical bookshelves has the same kind of soothing, mind-clearing, effect that some people achieve through prayer. The kind for whom books and happiness are so closely linked that sight of many books together is enough to make them smile. This is what gives this Christmas Tree its magic.
Mostly, it’s the Christmas Trees that we bring into our homes and decorate ourselves that we grant power to. In our home, my wife is the guardian of Christmas magic. She chooses. positions and decorates the tree. She stores the lights and ornaments in special boxes throughout the year and brings them out to summon with as Christmas approaches.
This year, she’s chosen a small, nicely shaped Christmas Tree, that perfectly fits in our window and brightens our room. To me, its appearance says that the wind-down to Christmas can begin. I think its simplicity speaks to the kind of lives we’re trying to live now, while its ornaments, which have been with us for a while, speak to continuity in the face of change. And, of course, it’s pretty to look at and fills the room with a welcoming glow.
But that’s not the only magic Christmas Tree in the house. For a number of Christmases now, my wife has summoned the spirit of Christmas with an ornament that captures the idea behind the Christmas Tree. It was with us when we lived in a modern apartment in Switzerland. It’s with us now in a Victorian house in England. It forms a bridge between the two. This year, it’s positioned in the dining room, smaller and more intimate than the room the other tree warms, and next to it hangs a print, freshly framed for Christmas, that reminds me of the kind of snowscapes that only exist in the imagination.
These two totems of Christmas are part promise, part wish, part memory and all love. To me, they’re magic.
It seems to me that personal Christmas Trees like this, that we invest ourselves in are ten per cent tree and ninety per cent Christmas.
There’s a poem by Janice Windle that considers a similar idea. You may find the ending a little unsentimental. I like the poem because I think it shows that Christmas Tree magic is ephemeral and is less about the tree than it is about dressing the tree with our memories and hopes. See what you think.