Today is January 6th, Little Christmas, Epiphany. In the Orthodox tradition it is Christmas Day. For our family, today marks the last day of Christmas, the day we put away the decorations. (Actually, February 2nd is the last day, but that is another story.) True to form, we gathered all the decorations and returned them to storage. We also dismantled our tree. This process is the opposite of assembling it, with some variations. The first task is to remove from it the myriad birds, animals, angels, musical instruments, bows, and other ornaments we have collected, or made, over the years. Many are quite fragile and must be treated with great tenderness. Next we remove the lights, then separate the tree into sections, so we can return it to the box in which it spends most of the year.
As you probably guessed, the tree is artificial. We made the change to an artificial tree a few years ago, in the face of intense family allergies. The tree we chose is lovely, standing about 9 feet tall, and fitting neatly into the skylight well in the sun room. This tree has grown on us. Last night I found myself sitting down to speak with it about the end of the Christmas season. Today, as we got ready to begin taking it apart, I felt a pang of regret. I also had the distinct sense that it had an awareness of us, that it was in some inexplicable way conscious.
I guess I should not have been surprised. In the shaman’s world, as in many Indigenous cultures, everything is alive. True, somethings are less attentive or awake than others. Yet, although they may be a tad slow and dense, they are dreaming here along with us. There are reasons we talk to our cars and trucks, and still other reasons we are surprised when they answer. How often have you heard the phrase, “Walls talk,” or had the experience, maybe sitting in some old farmhouse, that history is literally stored in the floorboards? Old farm houses are filled with stories and often they talk, sometimes to the chagrin of their human inhabitants.
Psychology explains away such profound, yet mundane, moments of connection as projection. I suspect that such reductions are material philosophy at its worst. I don’t doubt that we project our modes of experiencing onto the non-human world; I imagine the tree does the same to us. ( David Abram does a lovely job of addressing this in his recent book, Becoming Animal, as well as in this interview from Scott London.) I prefer to live in a world that is alive, responsive, and insouled, a world where what we do matters. I would even go so far as to suggest that what we do matters, profoundly.
With this in mind, we thanked the Christmas tree for its beauty, engagement with us, and encouragement in this time of dark and cold. Then, we took it down, returned it to its box, and asked it to await December, when we will again call on it to hold the heart of the season, and our family celebration. We did this with gratitude tempered by relief and a hint of sadness, then delighted in the freedom to re-inhabit the now spacious room, light pouring through the windows with the joyful promise of a not too distant spring.