Our Town: Ode on a Christmas tree in E. Williston

Dr Tom Ferraro

I see that East Williston has hung its Christmas lights on the Helen Bowker tree and has those cute little Nutcracker soldiers standing guard.  Christmas tree lights, the nutcracker, an evergreen tree all tell me its holiday season once again.

Every child and every adult live in hope during the holidays. On Christmas morning  the young ones rise early in expectation that Santa has brought all manner of gifts and goodies. And parents rise with hope  for joy and love.  

Even the hardest scrooge still has a flicker of hope burning deep within their heart. 

It is an obvious point to say that Christmas is celebrated during the darkest days of the year. This prompts the question of why do  cultures place this special and most magical of holidays  at the year’s darkest point?  

Here’s what I think. 

Christmas is really a question that humanity tries to answer every year. The question is “how do we as humans find happiness amidst so much darkness, pain and death? And make no mistake about it, winter time brings death.  Sad but true. Need proof? Look out the window at your garden. 

Robert Frost asked this question well in his poem “A Question” which goes like this 

“A voice said, Look me in the stars,

And tell me truly, men of earth,

If all the soul-and-body scars

Were not too much to pay for birth.”

Many a philosopher, playwright, poet, psychoanalyst and cleric have attempted to confront this question. Sigmund Freud, the famous  psychoanalyst and perhaps the greatest thinker of the 20th century said that in many ways life is a tragedy and the very best a human could expect from life is a mild sense of depression.    

Yet his rather somber answer to life’s pain is contradicted by every Christmas song we hear.  Bing Crosby singing the Irving Berlin masterpiece “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” gives us all joy.  The Christmas tale of The Nutcracker Ballet, written in 1816 by E T Hoffman, modified by Alexander Dumas, put to music by Tchaikovsky and staged by Petipa and then Balanchine is a wonderous tale of dreams, toys and the Land of the Sweets that it the very opposite of despair. 

Even the standard Christmas jingle of “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh! Hey!” makes one feel happy just in the hearing.  

Needless to say I have never rode in a one horse open sleigh and am not likely to in the near future but we can assume that it’s fun provided the horse doesn’t run off on you and take you over some cliff. 

Exactly how to enjoy Christmas and better yet how to enjoy life remains life’s greatest  mystery.  Another Robert  Frost poem  is “The Secret” and it goes like this:

 “We dance round in a ring and suppose

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”

Well the secret is to understand that although life is dark and painul and dreary and finite there are also enormous joys to be had as well.   

Here is a list right off the top of my head

1)Seeing distant family and friends   after months of their absence

2)Seeing so much generosity at this time of year (the toy nutcrackers next to the East Williston Christmas tree were made and donated by a boy scout troop.) 

3)Enjoying a few moments sitting in silence in your living room and meditating on the twinkling  lights.

4)Getting to go to many parties that serve hot chocolate and egg nog.   

5)Getting a cashmere sweater under the Christmas tree.

6)Receiving a Louis Vuitton handbag.

7)Seeing The Nutcracker again at the New York City Ballet

8)Catching It’s a Wonderful Life with James Stewart on TV

9)Seeing Bill Murray in the comedy film ‘Scrooged’

10)Getting a kiss from someone you love

In 1819 the British poet John Keats wrote “An Ode to a Grecian Urn.” He finished the poem with the phrase “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” 

Well there is both beauty and truth in every Christmas tree as well. The truth is that it is placed in the living room and decorated every year at just the right time.  

The Christmas tree represents a head-on full-bore attack against the darkness.  And its beauty is self-evident. 

Everyone loves the smell of  evergreens, the lights that glow, the ornaments that hang on its branches  and all those presents that are given with love.  

And if that’s not magic enough what is? 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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