cultivating Christmas trees

A friend recently gave me a grow-your-own-Christmas-tree kit.  I added water to the condensed pellet of dirt and watched it grow to fill the tiny clay pot.  If the tree had grown at such a rate, it would be nearly large enough for lights and ornaments by now.   Well, but it didn’t.  I carefully followed the directions: interring  five tiny seeds in the moist earth and setting the pot in a sunny place.  Currently I have a lovely little pot full of earth, and the hope of a tree sprout sometime in the future, perhaps.  So many things are like that: instructions followed perfectly, all conditions and stipulations met, but the ultimate result utterly beyond our direction.  And so we sit and stare at the clay pots and wonder if we’ll ever see the bit of green for which we look …

It being December now, I feel I may safely type another Eliot Christmas poem.  (I did it last December, for those of you who read this then.)   Last year, this poem didn’t make sense to me, but it’s been growing on me since then.   Inspired by my recent tree-planting, I read it again recently, and have been waiting for December to share it here:

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

The are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish — which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
-T.S. Eliot, 1954

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