I was still inside my shop with an hour to go before closing, so I missed the lighting ceremony of the lobster trap Christmas tree outside the police station last week.
I felt the energy and excitement as people rushed past my window pushing baby strollers, balancing bags of gifts, evidence of afternoon shopping. Little kids tried to keep pace with older siblings, hurrying up the hill from the east end of Main Street.
They came from all directions, converging in the street and sidewalk outside of Brown’s Mall as the winter night fell gently and silently, erasing the late afternoon light from the sky.
When I closed up shop I gathered my things, I ventured up the street, quiet now, the crowd dispersed. Alone in the hushed night, I admired the bejeweled spectacle — a perfectly shaped, thrillingly outsized Christmas tree, its blue, green and red lights densely sparkling under a grand gold star against the dark sky.
It was lovely simply to stand, bundled up against the wind, in the presence of this carefully constructed “tree,” the components of which had likely all seen lobster action in our waters. It was unique, I opined, to this craggy jut of seaside land we call Cape Ann, the structure a reminder of centuries of lobster-related history.
In the darkness, only the great cone of lights was visible; the dense blanket of buoys that swathed it in the daylight disappeared, and as I gazed at the tree, all else around me faded away. I was surprised at my own tears trickling down my cheeks. It was so beautiful, a clear manifestation of why we humans have created and embraced holidays — be they religious, patriotic, or seasonal.
It’s that they offer us an outlet to transcend the ruts of the daily grind. They push us to give more, to notice more carefully. They present opportunities to think outside of ourselves, to consider the plights of others who clearly are worse off than we.
In the December holiday season particularly, as people celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, we embrace most seriously the truth of an otherwise hackneyed adage, “It is better to give than to receive.” I find as I get older that it is appropriate to “pass the torch” on many levels, and in various realms. It is time get rid of things rather than to continue accumulate them. Perhaps this is because as we age, time and energy is better spent holding on to and nurturing each other while we still have each other.
My husband and I agreed early in this month that we wouldn’t get a Christmas tree. So I was surprised when he came through the door, with a short, fat one that he carried in one hand and set it on a coffee table.
He wanted the OK to decorate it his own way. I said, “Sure,” wondering which of the decorations he would take from the three big boxes in the basement. When I arrived home, he hadn’t brought up any boxes at all. He’d bought a single box of small silver balls, one string of tiny green lights, five potted white cyclamen around its base, and a white dove crowning his creation. It looked simple, exquisite.
Next year, perhaps we’ll just divide up the boxes of old decorations and give them to our kids for their big trees. This year, such an elaborate task of decorating seemed daunting, and the memories that are nestled in boxes in the basement should be passed on.
As I stood across the street from the lobster trap Christmas tree, I thought what an elegant and meaningful gift it was to share with our whole city.
I had never felt so free to give myself away. Maybe, if you haven’t yet, you will go stand there, too. It’s a real holiday “high.”
Susan Emerson is a regular Times columnist.