I found the first one in the alley. I was on my way home from the market—jacket zipped up to my chin, warm gloves curled around the handles of my grocery bags—when I noticed her from the corner of my eye. They’d stripped her of everything after they’d had their fun and left her splayed on the wet concrete. She lay there, sad but also resigned. It was just how it was every winter.
People brushed past me as I stood at the mouth of the alleyway. Some looked curiously at me, but most of them just rushed past me without another thought. I didn’t blame them; sights like these were common after Christmas and New Year’s. Huddled under doorways, propped against trashcans and under streetlights…there were so many of them. Sometimes whomever put them there tried to cover them up, but they were all broken things, obviously abandoned by their families. There was no hiding that fact.
The sunlight was fading fast and the chill was setting in. I just wanted to get to my warm home and make dinner and unwind on the couch, but there was something about her…
I squared my shoulders and stepped into the alley, stopping just short of her stump. The whole place smelled of damp trash with a dash of pine. I squatted and touched her gently. She still had some tinsel tangled in her branches.
“Hey, girl,” I whispered quietly. She rustled forlornly when I took hold of her sticky branches, her needles crunching and releasing more scent. I tugged experimentally, took a deep breath, and dragged her home.
I picked up the next one right on my street corner. He must’ve been such a glorious sight; even in his sad state, I could see the lights and the ornaments in his green branches like ghosts of days past. He gave his all to his chosen family, but in the end he too was put out. I knew that this was what they were grown for…Still it made me sad. Loved and cherished, then tossed out like nothing. The third tree happened quickly—bundled into my car trunk en route to the doctor’s. The fourth had so many branches broken, I nearly cried when I saw her. And by the end of two weeks, I had a collection that not even my family could ignore. My orphans had to go.
On a cold and starry night, I made several trips back and forth from my garage to the beach, each time chauffeuring three or four trees in my car. When I was done clearing out my collection, the hole I had dug in the sand was chest-high with trees laying criss-cross against each other. I circled the pyre several times, drenching the trees with lighter fluid. And then I struck a match.
I stood there with the lit match poised on my fingertips. I thought about how the trees didn’t understand Christianity or religion or Santa Claus. They just existed and did their best to be trees. We turned them into symbols of peace and of family and of tradition, cutting their lives short for something they didn’t understand or believe in. We used them and disposed them without thanks.
But the trees accepted it; their life and death was preordained, and the trees, in their infinite wisdom, accepted it with grace and patience.
I could only hope to share in their wisdom.
I dropped the match and with a whoosh the trees exploded in one last display of magnificent dancing lights, the flames twisting and swirling wildly.
I saluted at the fiery, crackling pyre before taking a sharp about-face. I took a deep breath and started running away from the cops who were blowing their whistles and gesturing at me. I had forgotten that bonfires weren’t allowed on this part of the beach. Oh well. Worth it. Thank you, Christmas trees, thank you.