I’m not sure why I did this. I don’t actually celebrate the winter solstice in any way; I just like having a tree up this time of year. And since my parents have decided to bail on Christmas, that meant I could raid their stash of ornaments and lights.
First I had to transplant my Norfolk Island pine into a heavier pot so it wouldn’t tip over, then drag it away from the windows so I could get some lights and ornaments on it. The tree’s only five and a half feet tall with sparse boughs, so I could afford to be choosy about what I hung. I mostly stuck with birds and antique glass balls. You can’t go wrong with birds and balls. This is a well-hung tree. Of course, it also includes everyone’s favorite ornament, Santa in a bathtub, accompanied by a ceramic Mrs. Claus with arms out in a gesture of alarm. Two wooden elves are seeking escape, one on skis and the other in a small aircraft.
Probably I should’ve waited until St. Lucy’s Day on December 13, which had been the approximate date of the solstice before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Hence John Donne’s poem, “A Nocturnal Upon S. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day.”
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.
And so forth.
Of course, in my solstice tree’s native Norfolk Island, it’s the summer solstice coming up on the 22nd. “The climate is subtropical and mild, with little seasonal differentiation,” according to the Wikipedia. “The temperature almost never falls below 10 °C (50 °F) or rises above 26 °C (79 °F).” Sounds dull. They do, however, have a Norfolk Island pine tree on their flag — it’s their biggest export. The name of their major settlement is Burnt Pine. They have 51 endemic plant species, including the world’s tallest tree-fern, but their native forests are reduced to a single, five-square-kilometer tract protected as a national park. Numerous endemic species of birds have gone extinct due to habitat destruction and the introduction of rats, cats, goats and pigs. Perhaps some of the fanciful bird ornaments on my tree can serve to evoke the spirits of this vanished avifauna: “the endemic Norfolk Island Kākā and Norfolk Ground Dove along with endemic subspecies of pigeon, starling, triller, thrush and boobook owl.”
The official motto of Norfolk Island is “Inasmuch.” I love that.