lessons from the witch tree
on festivity, loneliness, and being raised by wolves
A few years ago, I decided to buy a Christmas tree. I’m culturally Jewish, conceptually agnostic, and ritually a bit of a witch, but a lighted tree is a lighted tree no matter what you believe. I drove to my local big-box store and examined probably 30 or 40 different options in every size and color. There were classic plastic firs, 8-foot-tall LED eyesores, and tastefully restrained options in monochrome silver and gold. All the trees felt festive, in their own way. All of them were fun. So what did I leave with?
Amid the riotous rainbow overstimulation of the big-box store, this dark, creepy little object had looked simple, unassuming, and calm. But the moment I walked outside, the second-guessing and self-recrimination began. Cold rain splashed my hands and hair as I slid the long box into my trunk. You went into the store for a Christmas tree and you came out with a dead branch? Were you raised by wolves? You can’t even decorate for the holidays like a human being.
By the time I got home, the creepy tree had become an emblem of my general unacceptability. I’m not someone who typically cares about being normal, but this felt like such a glaringly obvious error in person-ing. You can’t understand, and you can’t play along. There’s something intrinsically subhuman about you. Warmth and joy and belonging are simply not for you.
I set up the meager twig tree, laughing bitterly at my inability to comprehend this most ordinary of human practices. Then I plugged it in and switched on the lights, and the nasty voice in my head quieted a little. The tree I’d bought was different, yes, and not what I saw in the glowing windows of other people’s homes. But it was lovely, in its own spooky, wintry way. It was right for me.
Then the holiday cards started trickling in. Christmas, solstice, New Year’s Eve, shiny paper and sledding snowmen and happy dogs in bright hats and scarves. I nestled each card carefully among the witch tree’s spindly branches. Before long, the barren failure-twig was fully, colorfully leafed with words of love and cheer from people who didn’t think it strange at all to include me in their celebrations. They thought, I’m sending holiday cards. I should get her address. And that was it. And the tree was beautiful. Its sparse branches made for perfect greeting-card scaffolding, and its glittery fake-snow flocking gently reflected the tiny golden lights.
I left it all up through the new year, until the card-leaves began dropping from the branches. Then I dotted the tree with friendly felt hearts for Valentine’s Day. Pink and red envelopes arrived from friends and family and I stuck those in the branches, too. In spring I hung it with sparkling crystals that looked like cold falling rain.
The cruel voice in my head hasn’t been completely silenced, of course. It still rears up from time to time, reminding me of all the ways in which I am alien, alone, and lesser-than. But it doesn’t have the tree to use as evidence anymore. My witch tree is wondrous and a house for love because it is peculiar. And so am I.
And so are you.
✨things i’ve written✨
The second half of my interview with author Sabrina Imbler is up now at The Last Word on Nothing, and I can’t recommend it enough. Sabrina had some extremely wise things to say about gender, discernment, and accepting—while committing to, in ink and paper—an impermanent self.
December is for ghosts, just like October is for witches and the rest of the year is for vampires, and no, I will not be taking questions on this. If you haven’t yet read my comforting-ghost poem (or if you liked it and want to read it again), you can do that here.
A loving thing I’ve been doing for myself lately is taking an afternoon cocoa break. It takes about 5 minutes for the water to boil, and in that time I’ve been trying to practice doing absolutely nothing. Not making a grocery list, not checking my email, not doing the dishes. My goal is just to stand (or sit, some days) in the kitchen, watching the bubbles multiply inside the electric kettle. To just breathe, and be. And then the kettle clicks off, and the sky of my mind is a little bit clearer, and there’s a cozy hot drink to curl around.
Afternoon Cocoa (serves 1)
a packet of your favorite instant cocoa
a generous sprinkle of cinnamon
a sprinkle of chili powder, to taste
enough water (or milk of your choice) to fill your favorite mug
While the water or milk is heating, sprinkle the cinnamon and chili powder into a dry mug, then add the cocoa mix. Stare out the window or watch kettle bubbles until the water or milk is the temperature you like.
To ensure a dreamy-smooth consistency, splash a teeny-tiny amount of hot water or milk into the mug. Mix mix mix until the cocoa, cinnamon, and chili powder have formed a thick but smooth chocolatey sludge and there are no pockets or hidden corners of dry powder left.
Add the remaining hot water or milk and stir stir stir until completely blended.
Optional: Top with big, fluffy marshmallows or accessorize with gingersnaps.
This has been the last small magic for 2022. Stay warm, stay safe, wear a ****ing mask (yes, still!), and be a sweetheart to yourself. I’ll see you in the future.
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