On December 21, 1844 Hans Christian Andersen published the “Little Fir Tree,” a rather depressing story of an evergreen tree that is never satisfied. As a young sapling he looks up at his full grown comrades and dreams of one day being as large as they. The sun and air and forest are beautiful but he takes no joy from them. When he grows older he hears a bird tell about the trees that are cut down in the fall and decorated by the people in the nearby village. The tree is very excited to think that he will one day be a Christmas tree too and once again ignores the blessings of his current state. When he has reached a good size, he is chopped down and taken to a nearby home where he is decorated and celebrated. Though he loves this moment of glory, he is still convinced that there will be more and that his situation will only get better. He has a rather rude awakening when Christmas is over and he is stored in the attic eventually to be chopped up for firewood. He recognizes too late that his happiest moments in life were those that he did not appreciate in the moment. It may not be the most chipper of Christmas stories but the story of this Christmas tree got me thinking about how I look at the Christmas season.
Christmas is all about anticipation. From the moment Thanksgiving dinner is over, it is nothing but Christmas. Stores and radio stations may start right after Halloween but that is because they have no concept of the proper order of things. But now is not the time for that tirade.
Christmas is about anticipation for practically everyone. Students and teachers are looking forward to a break from classes, Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again, and everyone, whether they admit it or not, has at least one or two presents that they can not wait to receive. There is just so much to plan, buy and make around Christmas time. The songs we listen to, the sermons we hear in church, the cookies we make, the shows and movies we watch, and even the stories we read all seem to be focused around that one event: Christmas. So December the 25th comes… and then it goes… And what am I left with? Family leaving, classes on Monday, and a slowly dying Christmas tree. The lights on people’s houses seem to be mocking me come Boxing day. They sit there and say, “There’s nothing else to look forward to. The good times are over.” After the Christmas season draws to a close, I feel kind of let down. Disappointed as if Christmas hadn’t been quite as good as I had expected it to be.
This has been the case since the first Christmas I can remember. There is always a sense that the whole business is anti-climactic. And that expectation of things getting better detracts from the moment itself. Christmas day always had a sense of sadness around it because it seemed like there should be more. It was only two years ago that I realized Christmas doesn’t have to be this way. If I could focus on the present moment whether before Christmas or after, I can find joy in whatever I am doing. I don’t have to be sad today just because I was a little happier yesterday and the potential glory of tomorrow shouldn’t stop me from seeing the joy of today.
There is a reason we devote a month to the Christmas season. Rather than Christmas day being the whole focus of our energy, it can serve as a last hurrah for this Christmas spirit we have been collecting all month long. Maybe even all year long.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “It Feels Like Christmas” from the movie The Muppet Christmas Carol. In the song, the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds what Christmas is:
“It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear.
It is the season of the spirit
The message if we hear it
Is ‘Make it last all year’. ”
It is always sad to say goodbye to family and to have to go back to the monotony of everyday life, but there are many ways to be happy even when it’s not a holiday. This last week of classes before break are some of the hardest days because we are just so close to being done and yet I have to force myself to think in terms of the present; Enjoy the Christmas season, do my best to spread Christmas cheer and joy and hopefully make the Christmas spirit last well into January if I can manage it.
Andersen’s fir tree could only see joy in retrospect and became fixed in a place of perpetual regret. Since I won’t be chopped up for kindling, the least I can do is hear the moral of the story and take it to heart. Enjoy every moment of everyday, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.