Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Fir Tree

14th Dec 03 Fir Tree by HCA

The Story of the Christmas Tree
Oh Christmas Tree

The Fairytales of HCA : The Fir Tree nr 26
translated by H P Paull, illus by Pedersen

In the city square stands the Christmas Market arrayed in stalls with great Christmas trees standing guard all around it, dressed in glittery finery. Small children visit the little stall covered with hay to talk to the llama, sheep and goats and toddlers hang onto the noble ponies that amble in a crowded circle. Tourists gawk at Christmas wares, thinking about their credit accounts. In the corner, children skate in the ovoid rink across from the Tyn Church. Young couples gossip together, warming their hands on hot mulled wine while others admire the horses standing in the fiaker line. Everywhere, Christmas lights dazzle, blinking against the wintry sky and the drab walls of Prague.

Christmas is for the wealthy to enjoy themselves and the poor to struggle through the coldness of the season. They see too the Christmas Market with its enticing luxury, dreaming of days when their stomachs shall be satisfied with proper food and they can enjoy spending money on useless baubles serving to decorate a room or table. They come to watch the children skating on the rink or the outdoor performances presented on the Christmas center stage. At home, there are no trees or presents. Life is lived from pocket with scarcely enough to survive. They search through the small, inexpensive gifts found within the many craft stalls: a string of rose quartz or amethysts; a puppet or mug to satisfy the demand for giving presents.

Everyone needs acceptance. Everyone wishes to be admired or loved. In the center of the forest lived a small fir tree, beneath the branches of the great. He, too, wanted admiration and acceptance as he viewed the great trees towering over him. How grand it would be to live to old age with birds' nests in the branches.

Mallet's Nurseries: Christmas snow and trees

London Film Festival: Christmas Tree

Andersen transfers the longing for acceptance to an inanimate object, yet we accept it, understanding the agony of exclusion. We 've experienced standing outside to watch the party in process in a brightly lit room, to be excluded from cheerful company. The futile hopes of the fir tree are starkly contrasted against reality. His glory is transient, decked in Christmas baubles a brief time. His value is lost the moment the party is finished.

The longing for acceptance is reflected in many of the Andersen stories, including the Steadfast Tin Soldier, Ugly Duckling, and Match Girl. Although the soldier is neither rich nor poor, he is minus a leg, excluding him from the normal company of soldiers. He sees himself as unworthy. The Ugly Duckling is persecuted until it flees the banyard society and only by glancing into the pond at the end of the story realizes its own beauty; but the Fir Tree suffers belated enlightenment. Cut from the forest, he is dragged into the artifice of affluent society and decked with the superficiality in a transient holiday. Within a short time, he is rejected and put out on the trash heap where the little rodents visit to hear stories. As he knows but few and none within their interests, he is again rejected. Still confused by the ordeals of his arduous life, he believes himself young when spent and ends as kindling.

Deftly, Andersen transfers our sympathy to the tree, the common symbol of Christmas, the season of gaiety and giving, while making us aware of the misfortunes of those suffering from poverty and rejection. Without becoming maudlin or moralizing, Andersen expresses the suffering of society' rejected, forever watching the happy festivities within the lighted room. He does it without Dicken's Ghost of the Christmas Past or Old Scrooge reminiscing on the younger on a merry Christmas Evening. Nor is there any Tiny Tim to bless us at the end. Instead, the reader is put into the center of the story as the silent tree, unable to express its longing. The themes of silence and yearning thread their way through many stories, through the eyes of the Mermaid, the loneliness of the Ugly Duckling and the open arms of the Fir Tree yearning to embrace the nests of birds and hear the twitter of the young among them.

Giving gifts is a risky business, for in giving something, a bit of the giver is also given. Tourists search the Christmas Markets for that special present coming from Prague, hoping never to find a telltale label franked, "Made in China" . We look for the original, the unique. In doing, we overlook the beauty before us, losing value on the more important things. Being accepted often entails sacrifice, submitting to the demands of peers or friends. They dislike favorite clothes or insist on different appearance and behavior. So hard to learn to eat lettuces with knife and fork in a strictly aristocratic European manner, but we suffer the humiliation of rejection if our etiquette doesn't match demands.

The tree symbolizes not only Christmas but symbolizes eternal life in literature. The roots reach into the underworld with the branches reach towards the heavens where God reigns. Another symbol would not make the allegory as powerful-- the tree is not only symbolic of life and spirituality, but also of giving. Under it presents are placed and around it children play games, dominating the holiday season, gracing city and town squares across the Christianized world. What would Rockerfeller Square be without its annual tree?

Christmas Tree in NY
in the midst of the city, stands a Christmas tree
home pages with some funky Christmas pics

The origins are older than Christianity, reaching to into religious and social culture found in ancient Egypt. In classical literature, trees are associated with various dieties. Just as Judaism took ancient rites and transformed them to new meanings, Chritianity converted old symbols into new, endowed with new mythology, ursurping old festivals. Now Saturnalia is limited to one night annually on New Year's Eve with strong prohibitions against imbibing and drinking. The darkness of the pagan festivals is transcended by enilightenment of Christian monotheism and the emphasis of giving, if only once a year. And true, Christmas is commercialized as the Season of Consumer Sales, but beneath all the guadiness and greed, there lurks the tragedy that Andersen so clearly sees: the need to be loved and accepted in a world where affluence buys acceptance based on the superficiality of appearance

Captain Jack's Christmas Tree Farm
history of Christmas trees

Christmas Archives
The History of the Christmas Tree

Christmas Legends

Christmas card
Thomas Kincaid, artist

Georgia Trust: Christmas tree

The National Christmas Tree Association
many various types of Christmas trees to choose...

Sandor's Christmas Picture Album
pictures from NYC

Classic Reader: Brief Bio of HCA

HCA in 123 Languages
a directory of Hans Christian Andersen tales in 123 languages.


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1 December 2004 Winter Festival Event


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