We got our tree early this year, ridiculously early.
In my family growing up, the tree came late. When I was very small, my mother put it up on Christmas Eve. In later years we traveled from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to our real home in Portsmouth, Virginia, the minute school was out for vacation, and the tree was the top of our priority list. I remember waiting for my brother to come home from boarding school and doing the tree with him when I was in college.
If anyone was getting ready for Christmas, it must have been my mother, and I have to admit that in our house, it falls to me, as well. I have control over what we do and when we do it. When I became a practitioner of Advent, I loved the way it stretched out the month of December. We lit a wreath at the dinner table. We had special meals on Sundays.
Then I became a pastor, and suddenly it became more of a negotiation with my church calendar.
This year, the family calendar gave us two choices for getting a tree: November 28 or December 21. Light Princess and I are not the right pair to wrangle a tree, and the rest of the family won't be home again until the weekend before Christmas. The weather this weekend was wet and warmish and not very Christmas-y. But when the wind blew all day Saturday and dried off the trees at the lot a few blocks from here, we walked over and chose a tree. Pure Luck and Snowman carried it home and got it into the tree stand, then Snowman and Light Princess strung the lights.
So the tree is lit. And that's what I wanted. I wanted that good-smelling symbol in my house, with lights, because whether it snows or blows or gets colder or remains damp and 40 degrees as it is today, it's going to get very dark before the light returns.
The tree with its lights, then, is a hedge against the darkness.
The LED lights are colored, and they sit like embers among the branches. Early in the morning, when we rise for school and work and the sun is not even close to joining us, we plug in the tree. We know this time will pass. By the shortest day, if all goes well, the rest of the family will return, and there will be too many people waiting for one shower and gallons of milk will be consumed overnight.
Sometime in the intervening weeks, we will decorate the tree, set up the manger scene, even hang the stockings. But for now, we are lit, not decorated.