I must have inherited my love of Christmas trees from my paternal grandmother who kept hers up until Orthodox Christmas in January. After everyone else had taken theirs down and boxed all the baubles and tinsel, the magic continued at her house. Of course, as the tree dried she didn’t leave the lights plugged in, turned them on only while she kept careful watch and never for long. The enchantment of it indelibly imprinted my young brain.
The Christmas tree many North Americans opt for today was popularized by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert who brought his Germanic traditions to their marriage. However, since ancient times long before Christianity, various European peoples have attributed powerful symbolism to evergreen trees whether burned in the hearth or used to festoon their homes in the season surrounding the Solstice.
Whatever the deeper meaning one might attribute to the tree, I am always transfixed by its beauty. As the days dip into deeper darkness the lights reflected from the ornaments cast a warm glow through the room which is further enhanced by aromas of seasonal foods, glasses of favourite beverages and centuries of stunning music created especially for the season.
Throughout the months of November and December in Tokyo, I found some of the most artistic interpretations of the Christmas tree in public spaces throughout the city. Massive structures in malls or hotels, smaller versions in shop windows and a few natural trees in plazas lit for the season offered riffs on every imaginable interpretation of a festive, conical structure.
Every year in various neighborhoods the deciduous trees flanking the streets are also decorated profusely. I wish I had taken more photos of the endless variations.
Undaunted by my shoe box Tokyo apartment’s limitations, I sourced a $10 tree complete with lights and ornaments from Nitori. This I combined with multi-stranded fairy lights I brought with me from Canada. No way was I going to miss out on a full-on Christmas glow simply because I was spending the season in a city where I didn’t know a soul. As the state rarely happens unbidden or at random, I find that comfort and joy is something I must create, especially during those times which can dismay. Therefore, I make a very big deal of my Christmas tree.
Though nothing beats a lovely fir from a tree farm, condominium bylaws prohibit them. When I moved to a small apartment in Victoria I chose an artificial pencil tree with a 60 cm (2 foot) diameter which doesn’t require rearrangement of the furniture to accommodate it. At 2.1 meters (7 feet) it also doesn’t compromise on height, for cute as they may be, the miniature options don’t satisfy quite the same way. Coupled with a Thymes Frasier Fir diffuser and the lights turned low, it’s as close to the real deal as I can muster.
Every year I rediscover the magic mix of lights together with vintage and modern ornaments. Some are from my parents’ first Christmas tree in 1951, another treasure is a gift received from my Grade 5 teacher. Everyone in the class got one though many were smashed before we got on the bus (a few quite deliberately as she was not well-loved).
For the month of December (and yes, through to Orthodox Christmas as Grandma did) it glows all day and dispels any wintry gloom with comfort and joy.
Star Wars & Grand Hyatt Gold Photo credits to Japan Today