The Cultivation of Christmas Trees T.S.Eliot, 1954
There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish – which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St.Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
This poem, along with other ‘Ariel Poems’, was commissioned to T.S. Eliot by one the directors at Faber, as part of a bigger series of poetry pamphlets. for the Christmas ‘gift’ market from 1927 to 1931. Some poets (well-known or especially talented younger artists, among whom were G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, and W. B. Yeats) were asked to write verses relating to Christmas. These were to be sent as Christmas cards with ‘decorations’ on the cover, and an appropriate illustration (printed in three colours) or sold to customers for one shilling a piece.
T. S. Eliot wrote six poems for this series: “The Journey of the Magi” (1927), “A Song for Simeon” (1928), “Animula” (1929), “Marina” (1930), “Triumphal March” (1931), and, later when the series was revived, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (19549
In this poem, Eliot talks of memories of Christmas and explains we must retain our childlike wonder. He says we should not dwell on its commercial side or the festive partying of the season. He acknowledges that disillusionment, weariness and boredom may enter human life, especially if we stop looking at it with the sense of adventure retained by a child. Then he mentions all our beginnings and endings and refers to faith, alluding to the First Coming (Christmas) and the Second Coming (the return of Christ)
The cultivation of the Christmas trees of this poem is not about raising evergreens, but persons, curating our own lives.
If our old age is to be anything like our childhood, we will have to cultivate a sense of wonder, to look again for enchantment in our lives.
Joy is born naturally, and hope can stretch from the first Christmas to “the eightieth Christmas,” which means, whichever is last.
For the Italian translation of the poem see: