Tag Archives: Christmas Tree

Travel Theme: Fragrant

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Fragrant.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, but the first Christmas decorations have already made their appearance in NYC store windows, so it’s not too early for this post…

No plastic Christmas trees for us. We always have a real tree. Plastic trees can look pretty, but lack an essential element of Christmas—the fragrance of a real tree, especially when that fragrance is released by the heat of real candles…

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More photos from Christmas 2011 are here, and from Christmas 2012 here. Looking forward to Christmas 2013!

The Last Day of Christmas

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

DSC_0013 cropped smallIt was the second weekend in January when we had our last Christmas dinner.

It was our third or fourth Christmas dinner. We  fixed a sumptuous meal, sipped wine, and lit the tree for the last time. As the candles slowly winked out, one by one, we talked about the meaning of Christmas.

To me, Christmas is unique. Sure, every holiday has its particular trappings (pumpkins, fireworks, candy canes…). But what’s different about Christmas is that it celebrates not that which is, but that which is to come.

Every other holiday celebrates an accomplishment or achievement: Thanksgiving is a classic harvest festival,  in which we give thanks for the year’s bounty (and historically, for having survived).  The Fourth of July celebrates the attainment of independence. Hallowe’en is the remembrance of the dead, and New Year’s celebrates the arrival of the New Year. And so on.

Christmas alone is a celebration of hope.

DSC_0027 cropped smallFor Christians, of course, the celebration is the birth of Jesus. But the birth of Jesus is, in a very real sense, the arrival of hope, the hope that an innocent child can be stronger than the worst evils of this world, that God is returning to His people, and that love will conquer evil. The birth of Jesus is just the start of that hope.

And the hope isn’t just for Christians. Regardless of when the birth of Jesus happened historically (and there is considerable speculation on this point), the ancient Christians elected to celebrate the birth of Christ roughly concomitantly with an older festival: Winter solstice.

It was a wise choice, because solstice, too, is a celebration of hope: The hope that the days will once again begin to lengthen, light will conquer darkness, and warmth will return.

Whether you’re a fervent Christian or an equally-fervent atheist or something else, in other words, celebrating Christmas is an act of existential courage. We are celebrating the hope that light, goodness, and warmth will return to the world.

Of course, that’s not strictly true. Vlad points out that his mother, with Eastern European clear-eyed cynicism, used to remark that the ancient Christians were wise to put Christmas a few days after the solstice proper—so by the time Christmas festivities began on the 24th, they could be certain the days were in fact lengthening again.

Nonetheless, Christmas is a festival of hope. It looks forward to better things to come.

DSC_0107 cropped smallFor this reason, in my book, Christmas deserves to be the most-celebrated holiday. The celebration of hope is the celebration of possibility. Rather than celebrating just one accomplishment, we’re celebrating the possibility of all that we can hope for: Light, love, happiness, joy. Peace on Earth, and God among us—and all the infinite accomplishments that could happen in a world in which these are realities.

That’s why we kept celebrating Christmas well into January.

And as we watched the candles sputter and wink, we thought about all the goodness we hope this year will bring.

One last time: Merry Christmas to all!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Illumination.

Christmas 2011—

In bright light, the Christmas tree looks pretty enough… but somehow still awaiting its true moment.

Candlelight works its magic. The whole tree glows with a soft radiance. The light picks out the glitter of ornaments from the pools of darkness deep among the branches. The candles burn silently, yet flicker perceptibly from moment to moment. The rising air sets strands of tinsel subtly in motion, shimmering in the light. The tree is alive.

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More photos from Christmas 2011 are here, and from Christmas 2012 here.

Christmas Lights

By Vladimir Brezina

We always get our Christmas tree only a day or two before Christmas, barely hours before the Christmas-tree vendors in the streets pack up for their migration back north. We do this not just because we procrastinate (we do), but because Johna follows an older tradition. According to Wikipedia,

Traditionally, Christmas trees were not brought in and decorated until Christmas Eve (24 December) or, in the traditions celebrating Christmas Eve rather than on the first of day of Christmas, 23 December, and then removed the day after Twelfth Night (5 January); to have a tree up before or after these dates was even considered bad luck.

So, even as our neighbors’ Christmas trees are already out in the street for removal, our tree is only now reaching the peak of its transient glory—

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Christmas Tree Light, The Old-Fashioned Way

By Vladimir Brezina

At this season, there are Christmas trees everywhere you look in the city, in stores, banks, apartment building lobbies. Most are only superficially decorated, standing under bright lights which reveal all there is to see at one glance, mere abstractions of the idea of the Christmas tree…

To me, a proper Christmas tree should be large, dark, mysterious, and excessive, full of possibilities. No doubt this is some Proustian attempt to recapture the Christmas trees of my childhood. I remember that Christmas trees were so much bigger then, with spreading branches that allowed glimpses into the dark interior where all kinds of ornaments glinted in the soft candlelight. (Many of the ornaments were wrapped candies that I hunted for in the days after Christmas…)

So, now that I have to be my own Santa Claus, a few rules: No artificial trees—it has to be a fragrant, real tree. As large as possible. Richly decorated. And above all, lit not by artificial Christmas lights, but by the unique, unmistakable glow of real candles!

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