Monday, December 24, 2012

The Christmas Chair

It was 1980 and I was working for the government and my bride of less than six months, Mary, was working for WRBS doing the morning drive-time on-air shift. We had just moved from West Michigan to Laurel, Maryland.

All family was several hours away and we were on our own. It was a good time as we found our own solutions to the nuts and bolts of living and we established new rituals for the holidays with neither parents nor kids to distract us. It was a good time.

I had discovered just a little while earlier that I was a Puritan and thus I felt a need to reinterpret and reexamine all the things that I had taken for granted—for instance, Christmas. That first Christmas far from home, making a home, was the time and place to reinterpret the holiday.

Let’s recap. Christmas occurs on the 25th day of December and we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on this day. Thus you might reasonable expect Jesus to have a birthday of 12/25/00 or some such, but this is not the case. Contemporary Christian scholarship now says Jesus was born a few years earlier. Moreover, we also think Jesus was born in a different season than winter. (Else the shepherds would not be out in their fields watching their flocks by night.)

So where did this December 25th business come from? It came from Pope Julius I. In 350AD he declared Christ’s birth should be celebrated on this day. Why this day? Lots of European Pagans celebrated on December 25th, which is close to the Winter Solstice. I figured Pope Julius I intended to glom onto the pagans’ holiday and make it his own--typical Roman syncretism, baptizing a pagan holiday and declaring it to be Christian. A quick review of the Pagan religions operating in Europe during this period will turn up a fair number of coincidences between Rome’s rituals and pagan ones. As a good Calvinist I wasn’t going to participate in any of that Roman Catholic—Pagan syncretism.

This extended to the Pagan practice of bringing an evergreen tree into one’s house. Animism believes that spirits inhabit things. And the spirit of the tree is strong enough to overcome the spirit of winter, as evidenced by the tree’s ability to remain green through the winter. This notion of spirits in trees is why one knocks on wood. It is to invoke the spirit of the tree to ward off misfortune.

That is just Animist thinking, and I was no Animist then and I am not one now.

Thus I decided there would be no Christmas tree in my house. You can keep your Roman syncretism and Pagan Animism. I would have nothing to do with it.

And thus the trap was laid.

The weeks leading up to Christmas came and I did not buy any Christmas tree or decorations. I would see trees on sale at the shopping center, and I’d summon my will to walk past.

Mary and I planned to fly back to Michigan the day after Christmas to see our families. I had the week between Christmas and New Years off, but Mary had to work at the radio station on Christmas morning. This meant that she got up at oh-dark-thirty and left for work hours before I rolled out of bed.

Christmas morning dawned and I awoke alone in the apartment. Padding around in bare feet, I looked around. There was no Christmas tree.

Someone had stolen Christmas, and that someone was ME.

Something snapped and I had to do something. I scrounged around the apartment looking for materials. We were just married so we didn’t have a lot of extras. I found a broom, a sheet, a kitchen chair and a table lamp. The kitchen chair had a cheesy green Naugahyde upholstery seat and the sheet was a pastel green color. I set the chair in the corner with the table lamp sitting on it. Then I fed the broom handle through the back of the chair and placed the sheet over it. It looked like a chair covered with a sheet. Then I took some books (I’ve always had plenty of those.) and put them around the perimeter of the sheet, pulling it out to give the assembly a sort of lumpy conical shape. The lamp beneath gave off a sick pastel light.

It was the best I could do and it sucked.

Eventually Mary came home from work. I don’t know what she thought of the Christmas Chair, but we sat on the couch that Christmas evening in its muted glow. It was good to be together.

The next day, we flew back to Grand Rapids and enjoyed our families with their real Christmas trees for a few days.

The first thing after we got back, Mary and I went to the Big-T Lumberland and found the biggest artificial Christmas tree they sold. It was 60% off.

We still use it decades later. It has gotten threadbare in places. I've patched broken parts and Mary suggested getting a new one last year.

I wouldn't think of it.


  1. Ebenezer Scrooge must have been the last of the puritans...

    1. The Puritans were big on compassion to the deserving poor, at least in the Americas. Scrooge wasn't that much into compassion for anyody.

    2. I always enjoy how an attitude of "the government shouldn't take my money by gunpoint and give it to strangers" translates into "why do you hate the poor?" I have a lot of compassion for the deserving poor; very little for bureaucrats.

    3. I think the thing I hate the most about "why do you hate the poor?" is the presumption that the money taken by the government actually gets to the poor. Washington takes our money and gives it to GOP cronies when guys like Bush & Delay run things, and gives it to Democrat cronies when guys like Obama & Reid run things. If poverty were wiped out overnight, think of all the bureaucrats who'd be thrown in the street.


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