Behold this year’s Christmas tree:
We needed new lights this year and found ourselves stopping at Target with the kids on the way to picking out the tree at Harner Farm. What kid do you know, when faced with the choice between dainty, classic, elegant white or brashly bright, possibly-flashing, crazily-colored lights, wouldn’t pick the rainbow hues? Yes, I prefer the former, but “Christmas is for children,” goes the saying, so into the cart went the multi-colored LED strands. How bad could they be?
Wow. Bright doesn’t even begin to describe these things. Garish. Tacky. Those were the words screaming in my snobby brain when I plugged them in the first time on Saturday. Those words followed by such an incredibly negative visceral response that I am ashamed of myself.
One of my favorite parts of this season is the sitting in the evening in front of a beautiful tree, looking at the ornaments of my childhood back-lit by soft white light, and feeling peaceful. This tree, these lights were just not going to evoke peace. More likely, they would evoke a migraine. (You’re a mean one, Ms. Grinch.)
But, once we got the ornaments of my childhood (and now of my childrens’ childhood) back-lit by blue and orange and purple and red, I felt better. The tension in my chest loosened. I’m sitting here right now, in fact, looking at the tree and feeling just fine. It’s a pretty tree and it makes my kids happy. Christmas is for children.
For most of my growing up, we had white lights on our live trees. But when I was very young, I remember colored lights on an artificial tree in our living room with the white carpeting and the gold and green striped couch. I remember sitting in a wooden rocking chair with my knees tucked up under my chin, my feet bare against the smooth seat. I remember Christmas music, but it’s possible I’m filling that into my memory because it makes for a more picturesque scene.’
What I’m sure about though, is that I was crying. I am sure that I was looking at that tree and feeling an inexpressable sadness that had, as far as I could tell, nothing at all to do with the lights on the tree or the music or the holiday. I was maybe six or seven years old and when I think back on this now, I know with absolute certainty that this memory marks the first recognizable moment of Depression in my life. There have been many more moments since then, surrounded and informed by many different conexts, but the shape and timbre of the thing has never changed.
I don’t know if this early memory has much, really, to do with my straight-up anger at the neon migraine lights on our tree this year, but maybe so. That’s one of the mind tricks of Depression–you can’t see the whole of the thing, only the garish, glaring ugly staring you down.
You can’t see, for instance, the full green branches or the strands of popcorn and cranberries that will later feed the birds. You can’t smell the pine sap on your fingers or hear the bottom branches swish as the cats pass beneath them. You can’t see the antique blown-glass moon your uncle gave you when you were ten, or the straw ornaments your father brought back from his trips to China when you were fifteen. The snowman you’ve been unwrapping every year since you were six years old. You can’t see the clothespin soldiers or the Santas or the hand-painted-by-your-kids angels—all of it dangling and dancing and dazzling right there in front of you.