You might think that after 18 years in Africa we would have succumbed to the convenience of an artificial tree. And this year, I did wonder why we were stubborn purists on this matter. But we've always had a live tree, or something close to a tree, and it has become a matter of tradition now to search for it. One year we were nearly arrested, so the process is not always straightforward. After that I planted enough for the coming years myself in Bundi, but those are now long gone. So here we were in Kenya with no real plan. There was definitely a bit of reluctance/anxiety/doubt as we all piled into the car. I had asked two Kenyans and one missionary what they have done, and was told all three times, oh, just go into the forest. So we looked for a good spot to try that.
Kijabe sits on the edge of an escarpment that is topped by National Forests planted with pine trees. But these are huge 30-50 foot tall trees, with long straight trunks in endless dark rows and scraggly needles way up at the top. And it would be unwise, not to mention illegal, to cut them. We did cruise along the road looking for perhaps a younger tree which had chanced to grow right on the road edge, but no luck. So we ended up hiking a short ways into the "quarry", a ravine of public land nearby where rock is quarried. The sun reaches here, so the floor is covered with bushy vines and scrub, including some cedar trees. None of them have anything close to a traditional Christmas tree shape. Most were scraggly, one-sided, bent, multiple-trunked, too large, or on a cliff edge. But we did find one semi-promising specimen. Caleb gamely chopped it down, and Scott and he added in some branches of equal height from a few other cedars.
We loaded our branches onto the car and brought them home, at least feeling less guilty since we had not really chopped down a full tree, so re-growth would take place. And while cruising the national forest we bought 3 seedlings so we can try and grow something more shapely for the next few years, or at least have a net re-forestation impact. No one questioned or threatened us, thankfully. At home we realized our ceiling is barely 7 feet tall. But we pushed all the various scraps together, secured them to each other with zip ties, set them upright in a bucket of bricks and water, strung on the lights, and added our ornaments.
Resulting in a festive display. Our tree lights are from Kampala, when electricity came to Bundi two years ago we went wild and bought four strands of the tackiest blinking spastic colorful lights you can find. Our ornaments are numerous, collected over many years. Some from our childhood, most bought here and there as we traveled, memories of trips, or home made by our kids. Our tree itself smells of fresh cedar, and splays out in awkward and scraggly directions. I like to think of the whole thing as exuberant.
It would be easier, and more attractive, to have a tree we assembled from a box. Or to drive to a lot where trees are lined up, grown in neat rows, manicured to prescribed shapes. Somehow this expectation of perfection is so much a part of modern culture. But I like our tree. It is fresh and real. It does not conform to expectations. It is not afraid to push out in various directions, or to blink in blue.
Christmas, as in the real Christmas, was a lot about making do. Making do with a less-than-ideal shelter, with an improvised cradle, with cast-off rags for clothes. And all those things were made beautiful and infused with meaning. Our tree reminds me of all this, of the boldness of pulling things together and declaring them beautiful. Of our whole life, which involves pushing the edges, looking for beauty in the ashes, creative adaptation of our home culture to new places, the melding of the old and the new. Of a God who does not require us to be the perfect uniform shape and height, but whose grace pulls us in just as we are and adorns us with lights and jewels. I'm thankful for our little tree. Just hoping it holds up 'til Christmas!