Our Christmas tree is already dead. Yep. It’s been sitting in the tree stand for three weeks and before that it was transported on a truck from Oregon, hundreds of miles away. A dead tree by Christmas is normal. There is also no snow in forecast. But I live in San Diego, so that’s to be expected. If my Christmas joy was contingent on a live tree and snow I’d be eternally disappointed, unless I lived in Alaska and decorated an evergreen outside my front door.
Five years ago we moved to a new apartment in Mannheim, Germany a few days before Christmas. While it was cold, there was no snow. And we were sorely mistaken on the German Christmas tree tradition. Apparently Germans don’t all buy their trees on Christmas Eve, as we thought. By Christmas Eve they are all sold out and tree lots are closed. That Christmas Eve I learned my first complete not-ordering-food-in-a-restaurant German phrase: “Wo kann Ich eine Weihnachtsbaum kaufen?” Where can I buy a Christmas tree? We wandered the streets of downtown Mannheim, looking for a lot. Behold, across from one of our favorite coffee shops – a coffee shop boasting a crackling fire on a flatscreen TV – we spotted a Christmas trees behind a fence, waiting to be taken home with a loving family. The attendant was nowhere to be seen. Surely he would be returning shortly to sell the last of these trees. Once again, we were mistaken. An hour and ten frozen toes later, we were still without a tree.
Heavy laden with disappointment, we walked back to our apartment. The apartment manager, dear Frau Schaefer, was leaning out her window as usual, breathing in thick smoke from her cigarette. “Wo kann Ich eine Wiechnachtsbaum kauffen?” we pleaded. She didn’t know. Perhaps Kaufland. [Insert husband’s comment: “Yes, when I asked the moustachioed parking lot attendant guy across the street from our apt – I remember asking “wo ist kaufland, oder ist ein kaufland in die naehe” – he leaned back and stroked his big white mustache and murmured ‘kaufland…..hmmm….kaufland’ like it was the theory of relativity]. After some deliberation, they decided we should drive to Kaufland (translated Shopping Land, a large store similar to Walmart) and they would surely have trees.
Quick! We hopped in our new-to-us ’94 BMW – BMWs are normal cars in Germany, not a luxury brand – and ten minutes later ended up at the lot where the men were loading the last of the leftover trees into their truck. “How much for a tree?!” We quickly handed him the cash, stashed the tree in our trunk with the tip of the evergreen waving out the back and drove home victorious. As we set up the tree in our barely furnished home, we felt Christmas had truly arrived. When we bought it, it was wrapped in a net, so my excitement rose as my husband began to remove the net to reveal the tree. Cutting with a swift, upward stroke, the net popped off and dry, pokey needles flew in every direction. Without the net, the longest branches still pointed straight up, perfect if we wanted our tree to look like a Menorah. And it was a little heavy on the bottom. So we had a menorah bell-shaped tree. A pile of dead needles lay on the floor below the tree. Wow. This will be a tree to remember. The menorah bell-shaped tree that was already dead. . .
With the Christmas Polka playing through the speakers on our one bookshelf, we decorated and laughed about our good misfortune in finding a tree on Christmas Eve. We reminisced about our Christmas the previous year, when we were on our honeymoon on a tropical island – no snow, Christmas tree or even presents that year. But the one thing we did our first Christmas on our honeymoon which we repeated our first Christmas in Germany and every Christmas since is the one tradition that marks the creation of Christmas. We wiped the dead needles off the couch and took our seats that cold day as my husband read from the book of Luke. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. . .”