Does anyone really know why we decorate the tree for the holidays? Is it to ensure a better harvest? To keep the weather mild? Or is it all just for luck? I certainly can’t recall.
But we do it anyway. Because it’s tradition.
In my small town in northern Ohio, every Christmas, we march into the woods to chop down a fir and place it prominently in the city square.
Everyone takes part, without exception, and it seems the tree we choose grows a foot taller every year.
Once it’s been set in its ceremonial stand, the townsfolk gather to decorate it.
Each father (or oldest son) adds a home-made ornament, the greatest they can afford, hung with twine or fishing wire or sometimes rope, to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Growing up, my father ran a successful carpentry business with locations across the country. He's retired now, but for most of my youth, he prided himself on donating the largest ornament.
With his wealth, he could afford to ship it in from Malaysia or mainland China or Central Africa, and my mother and young brother and I would help to prepare it.
Usually it became the star piece, affixed to the very tip-top of the tree.
And each year, the mayor would say to my father, “You’ve outdone yourself, Jacob,” and my father would beam with satisfaction.
Other households were less fortunate. Some made ornaments of legs or arms or heads, splitting a drifter or a prostitute between many townsfolk.
The poorest among us had to give of themselves, constructing small trinkets from toes or fingers or ears,
and adding a touch of extravagance through painted nails or jewellery still worn by the dismemberment.
Sometimes, if the harvest yielded less than expected, families would sacrifice their youngest, who may have been doomed regardless, or perhaps their oldest,
who had lived through his or her fair share of holiday seasons. Other times, women willingly gave their unborn, hung from a low branch by the umbilical.
Some even conceived for the occasion, planning around their fertile days in April. The closer to term, the more revered the ornament.
The tree of 2015 was more beautiful than any I can remember. The green of the bristling fir, the red of the flesh adorning it - classic Christmas colors on a towering Christmas tree.
And the star atop it still puffed tiny clouds of moisture into the cold air.
The mayor came to me and, looking up at the ornament dangling from the very tip-top, said, “You’ve outdone yourself, Samuel.”
I beamed with satisfaction. And though his face was fixed in anguish, I knew my father would have been proud, too.