Hanging The Tree

By Peter Halstead

Here’s a Santa with a fur hat,
Sinister, strung out, and fat,

Jiggling and buoyant,
A Dickensian clairvoyant,

Turned leaden by a blast
From the ghost of Christmas past,

Frosty, not exactly made from snow,
(As most older readers know);

Snow globes draped in colored flights
Of global warming Christmas lights;

A matryoshka capped with a ushanka,
Dreaming now of Casablanca,

Like Zhivago of a dacha
Or Paris of Ninotchka;

A pair of folded paper flakes
A blade’s embarrassing mistakes,

Scissored from the past’s confetti
Before the present world was ready;

A tovarisch in the snow
Whose frosted sled has miles to go;

A painted Transylvanian antique,
History skewered on its beak;

A shellacked and nested Russian doll
Cellophaned by Nicholas de Staël,

A khaki boyar escapee
From a Slavic infantry,

Our branches arsenals of stores
Which Peace on Earth ignores,

A season where the infantry
Is a kind of nursery;

This the point of dressing pines:
To discover all their hidden signs,

Semaphores that tell the story
Of a family’s repository,

Making of a lodgepole stump
A family’s ammunition dump

Our patrimony’s Nicene Creed
Up the Christmas trunk and treed

Like the stories that a steeple tells
When it carillons its bells,

The copper one with deadened clapper,
The Swiss one with its tiny tapper,

That the violent land erases
With marionettes of Wills and Graces,

These outmoded family rites
Draping us in northern lights,

Bringing all the galaxies there are
To sit here on a plastic star,

All that metaphor and simile
Rushing from the indoor scenery,

The pompous dangling mini Cossack
A chapter out of Pasternak

Where our childhood loves endure
When are our bodies are mature

And our secret wishes swing
From a piece of golden string;

And long-lost blizzards nightly fall
Forever on a silver ball

Without much rhyme or reason:
Miracles are just a season

Before our later snowless lives—
The childhood that the tree revives,

Remembering with each ornament
What its makers really meant

When the world seemed as free
And innocent as a Christmas tree.


The phrase that summed up what I was trying to say here was:
All that metaphor and simile Coming from a stunted tree. A Christmas tree is the ultimate Epiphany, a symbol of the gifts brought to us from nature, a revelation of what really matters, an entire treetop galaxy of values, coyly disguised as decoration, star-topped truth disguised as fantasy. It is an effigy of childhood, of what we were before we sank into maturity. The Christmas tree is a one-plant festival. It is heraldry disguised as botany. Like a magician with a wand, Christmas tree decorations corporealize, realize, substantialize, embody, personify, incarnate, reincarnate, exteriorize the invisible dreams of a perfect world, that snowy Christmas morning with the perfect gifts which probably rarely happens in anyone’s case, but which we nevertheless have to try to create for our children. Fingering each ornament as we hang it, we hang our own souls on display, like prayers tied to Japanese trees, like Nepalese prayer flags, prayers that we hope will rise to our own snowy adolescent heaven and recreate for our children, through whose eyes we still hope the hopes we had when we were as trusting as they are.

Tippet Alley
January 20th and March 9th, 2001

December 20th, 2004

La Jolla
December 22nd, 2007