I’ve only spent a few Christmases with my horses, and those few, frankly, have been disappointing. I’ve never had a horse you could hitch up to a sleigh (not and live to tell about it, anyway), but I’d bet I’ve only seen a handful of Christmas mornings with enough snow to sleigh ride anyway.
I do remember riding horses bareback in the snow on one Christmas day. But let’s be honest–horses don’t magically become festive reindeer, because they simply don’t understand Christmas, or any other holiday. We can put Santa hats, antlers or wreaths on their heads and necks, but all they care about is still only getting fed on time. Dogs don’t really “understand” Christmas either, but they relish our holiday excitement, as you can see from our Holiday Pets Photo Gallery (pp. 8-9 and 18-19). Cats only like holidays if they involve either copious attention for them or being left alone, depending on the cat–a truth that’s also evident among our Holiday Pets.
Since I’m not religious, I’ve long searched for a meaning to the holiday season, a reason to celebrate my own kind of joy. I’ve discovered, as I’ve reached middle age, the pleasure I get from gardening–planting flowers, shrubs and trees, then watering them, pruning them, mulching them, watching them grow. And that brings me to the Christmas tree, which has increasingly become my symbol of the season, just as it was for our ancestors millennia ago, even before Christianity.
For three of the last four Christmases, my wife and I have bought a live tree and then, in the new year, planted it on our small farm. The first year, we either grossly underestimated the tree’s weight or tremendously overestimated our own strength, and we sweated, groaned and swore as we, literally, dragged it in and out of our house. Discouraged, the next year we receded to the cut version, but we felt empty and even a bit guilty. So last year we found a live tree about a third the size of the first one, and we were a bit disappointed by its lack of capacity to hold the special ornaments we delight in finding throughout the years in our travels. This time, kind of like Goldilocks, we found a tree that’s “just right.”
I must admit to being a bit overzealous about these trees, about making sure (pretty much daily) that they have just enough water to prosper inside and pondering for days where to plant them. And my zeal doesn’t end once they’re in the ground.
I’ve begun to notice how often I admire the growth of our two previous Christmas trees and their progress into bigger, stronger trees. They’re just two of more than three dozen trees or shrubs I’ve planted on our farm, but they fill me with the most pride and joy.
My wife and I spent a delightful evening last Saturday putting up and decorating the tree with our special ornaments, but it was the thought of planting it that kept my mind even more eager. I relish the action of planting a living evergreen tree (Colorado blue spruce) in winter, when the nights are so long and cold and dark and the grass and all the other trees are brown or dormant. I guess that’s why on Sunday evening, after we’d ridden the horses and the sun had set, I was down there by the fence, with a flashlight, getting ahead of the winter freeze to dig a hole for this year’s tree, right next to the first one I planted three years ago.