Day Twenty-three – Christmas Trees

40DAYSBLOGDespite my “Bah Humbug” post about gift giving, I actually love the rituals of Christmas.  The home ones are especially nice: hanging stockings (made by my Mom for my Pani, each of my kids, and me), putting up the Nativity banners, setting up the Nativity creche (are they statues if all the figures are pillows?), putting out the Advent candles, hanging up Christmas cards (how do other people get their’s out so early?!), and putting up the tree.

Wait, that’s misleading: I like watching my kids put up the Christmas tree.  We have a mix of ornaments that will never make Good Housekeeping: classics like “baby’s first Christmas” bells for each of our children, candy canes (what is the shelf life of those things, anyway?!), kid-made ones I put together 40+ years ago and others that mine made over the last few years, happy meal ones (how do those keep getting out of the trash?), and all the wonderful gift ornaments that friends and family have given us over the years.  Each of them acts as a kind of hyperlink into memories of previous Christmases, taking the idle mind happily through the warmth of seasons past.  It’s a bit cluttered and random, but it’s real; our kids participate in that reality when they take them out and hang them.

Ritual is part of what allows us to live well.  Not just the intentionally constructed rituals of liturgies and parades, but the accumulated hodgepodge of habits that pile up in random but repeatable mounds around every holiday.  Ritual is how we experience tradition; how we live the timelessness of love; how we begin to grok our place in a community that started before time was measured, pools behind the dam of the eternal now, then down into the ever ditant “ages of ages.”  Through ritual, being human becomes as natural as putting chili sauce on eggs, blue cheese on roast beef, or bananas, peanut butter, and mayo on wonder bread.

Some people object when things that were created outside the formal historical channels of  Orthodoxy are allowed in.  I bet I have readers who will have a hissy-fit that an Orthodox priest has such things as an Advent wreath and a Nativity creche.  They would freak out even more to learn that we, members of an “Old Calendar” parish, celebrate Christmas twice; singing carols and opening our presents and stockings on 12/25 (12/12 on our liturgical calendar) and then pulling out all the liturgical stops 13 days later on 1/7 (12/25 on our liturgical calendar).  

Purists don’t like the pattern of rituals that have accumulated in my household around our Savior’s birth.

I wonder if they mind the trezub (trident, symbol of one of the gods of ancient Rus’) that adorns the walls of the church in which I serve.  It has pride of place, as do icons of so many saints, images of the “all-seeing eye”, pelikans, peacocks, grape vines, … even Christ Himself.  I am sure they are offended when they walk into a church and see images of the Trinity (with God the Father shown as the “Ancient of Days”) piled up amongst the cherubim and seraphim that continually circle the Throne of Glory.  So many things try to work their way into the presence of Our Lord.

God has a certain gravity.  One of my high school science teachers (a dear woman, but perhaps mis-placed…) told us that any metal object we lost would eventually find its way to the magnetic North Pole.  I imagined explorers on dog-sleds coming upon a huge pile of watches, bolts, matchbox cars, and pocket knives.  All of creation emanated from and is sustained by the mind of the Creator.  We have perverted many things, but He is drawing it all back towards Himself for the great re-making.  

All of these rituals are piling up around Him like offerings at an altar.  

My youngest daughter has a game she likes to play: it’s the “bring all my favorite toys to daddy because I love him” game.  After about fifteen minutes of this, my lap and all the couch around me are covered with dolls, books, and various other treasures.  There’s no real rhyme to the arrangement… only the guiding logic of the game.  I don’t need any of these things – and I usually end up putting most of them away myself.  But I sure do love to play that game.  I have no doubt that I love it even more than my daughter does.

No one would intentionally mix the ornaments we do for our tree; no one would intentionally combine the rituals that guide my family through this Nativity season; no one would think of making a  pagan trident a Christian icon or the yule tree an essential element in (almost) every Christian home; but I sure do love to play that game.