Resources and Information

The scent of authenticity: It’s not just about the tree

Fri, 10 Dec 2010 - 9:46 AM CST

by Jodi Detrick

For years, the Christmas debate simmered in our house. It was not about opening gifts on Christmas Eve versus morning. (Eve.) It was not over whether or not we believe in the virgin birth of Christ, whether he was actually born in December, or how many wise men came calling. (We do; probably not; and not sure, respectively.)

Our debate was about "the tree." We'd always been real Christmas-tree people. No phony, plastic trees for us! Those were for folks who'd sold out to convenience over substance. We always got bona fide trees, thank you very much, and I'd usually still be vacuuming up pine needles in March to prove it.
Due to the generosity of some lovely folks who owned a Christmas-tree farm in our area, for several years while our children were growing up we were supplied with the most gorgeous, fragrant trees each December. It was always a thrill to help my husband wrestle the twine-wrapped Douglas fir or stately noble into the tree stand. Never mind that we could sometimes lose our Christmas spirit over how to best accomplish that mission! (And it probably didn't help when I'd sing, to the tune of "Deck the Halls": Should've listened to your wife! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. ha, ha, ha, ha!")
When we finally got the tree to fit the stand, Don would lug it into its proper place of honor in the house. Feeling like I was part of an important ribbon-cutting ceremony, I would slice the twine, while the restricted branches would spro-ing open with a soft rustle. And then the best part-that rich, unmistakable pine fragrance would permeate the rooms. Even though I knew I still had hours of decorating ahead to make our home the festive place I wanted it to be, with that smell, the atmosphere shifted. Somehow that scent became a reminder that our family had something amazing to celebrate-a gift that changed the atmosphere of our world.
As time passed, however, and our children grew up and left home, the idea of an artificial tree became more alluring. Don was the first to cave. "Just think," he said. "We could get a tree with the lights already on it; and you'd never have to worry about it drying out. Read my lips: NO MORE PINE NEEDLES TO VACUUM!" And each time I would counter, "Yes, but we wouldn't have the smell! How can we do Christmas without that?"
Back and forth it went until last year. I was especially busy. Don was especially busy. We were both traveling a lot during December. I kept thinking of his words: lights already on it-no more pine needles. He found an exceptionally good deal on an especially real-looking fake tree. Maybe I could get one of those candles that smelled like a real tree. Didn't they make a fragrance spray for that? I caved.
So now our Christmas tree, lovely and convenient as it is, comes out of a box instead of a forest. Trouble is, it smells like a box, instead of a forest. (The candles and sprays don't even come close.)
Authentic Christianity has a "fragrance" about it. It smells like the place where it grew-in the heart of a Creator who chose the messiness of reconciliation with broken humanity over sanitized distance. It is a mixture of aromas-Bethlehem's earthy stable, a fisherman's forsaken net, a prostitute's tears of grateful repentance, a rough-hewed wooden cross. It is the antiseptic tang of a hospital for the dying in India and the welcoming smell of a Seattle soup kitchen on a cold night. It's the perfume of sacrifice, the bouquet of belief in the face of scorn and doubt. It is the unmistakable scent of love that permeates a poisoned atmosphere and slowly, but surely, changes everything.
This year, I wish you a very fragrant Christmas. (Hmmm, I wonder if I can talk Don into coming with me to the nearest real Christmas-tree lot?)


Jodi Detrick serves the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God) as Women's Director. She is also a public speaker, an author and a Life Coach.


First published in The Seattle Times. Used with permission.


Search Archives