When I was younger, I was much more into the holidays. I used to love putting up the tree and shopping and all the trappings of a winter extravaganza. Cookie baking and decorating rank high on my holiday list still as does watching holiday movies, Hallmark or otherwise. I hold college responsible for the decline of my holiday wonder; I always had to travel back home for the holiday break. Even in the pre-TSA, extra security days, holiday travel was not what one would consider fun. The travel may have been leading to fun but the actual logistics of travel sucked some of that fun (and magic) out of the experience. As I've gotten older, I wonder if my disinterest in the holidays comes from spending my holidays with adults. Since neither my brother nor I have children and we haven't been to Michigan for Christmas in six years (where my cousins' children live), I don't really spend a lot of time around the little ones at the time of year where they are most in awe of things and excited for celebrating. Maybe that's actually why there's an adorable child in every holiday movie; to help us remember the wonder and magic of the season.
I have a friend who doesn't like holidays (all holidays and her birthday). It's because of "forced joy." That's what she always tells me when I ask. The forced aspects of holidays are what kill it for her. You know the feeling she's describing: you have to get excited because someone bought an inflatable Santa or went all out on their haunted house this year or hand crocheted doilies for Valentine's cards or whatever one does to really go all out for Arbor Day. The desire to outdo one another or to get things done earlier make the actual fun things about the holidays seem like chores.
That's why I love things like the National Christmas Tree. It's a celebration that's simple and elegant. It feels like the start of something wondrous. For 93 years the President and his family have participated in the official lighting of a decorated tree in the Ellipse, the National Park near the White House (it's also referred to as President's Park). Over the years, the celebration has grown to more than just the First Family, the National Park Service (NPS), and the Marine Corps Band. Now televised on PBS, the lighting ceremony boasts a celebrity host, bands and other musicians, and the occasional muppet. None of this takes away from the original intention of the ceremony: to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season and spread some holiday cheer. One of my favorite additions to this year's festivities was that Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest NPS Park Ranger (she's 94) was on hand to introduce the President.
I've been to see the tree over the years but I've never been to the actual lighting ceremony. The NPS opens up a ticket lottery a few weeks in advance. I never remember to sign up for it. I know someone who has tried to get tickets for five years straight and finally got them this year. Another friend, who just moved here in September, entered her name after hearing about it on the radio and she got tickets. I was excited that she asked me to go and liked her reasoning for wanting to go in the first place: where else can you witness the leader of the free world light a Christmas tree? We have a tremendous amount of opportunity in the greater DMV to do some super cool stuff and this ranks up there on the list.
We took Metro like good DMV residents and walked the few blocks from Farragut West to the Ellipse (past the sad shell of the Corcoran Gallery). I've never seen that many women without purses in one place at a time. Bags are not permitted at the ceremony so even I had to pare down my belongings into things I could keep in my pockets. We made it through security with ease and found our way to a nice spot in the standing room section. My friend and I are both short so no matter where we stood, we were not going to be able to see much. Our plan was to stay until to watch the Obamas light the tree. No need to stay for the concert; we could just watch it on tv later.
And then they arrived. No matter what type of public event I attend, concert, baseball game, tree lighting, I end up near people who complain about everything and anything. This was no different; the group behind us filled the role of annoying attendees. If it wasn't how bad the view was it was questioning why there wasn't any hot chocolate being passed out or why wasn't Reese Witherspoon on stage already. There was an entire diatribe on the nightmare that is Metro. And then they started complaining about the cold. When one of the speakers said something about winter, they both said at the same time, "It's not winter yet." Seriously? The younger woman kept jumping up and down like a small child (she was in her 20s) and the older woman (her mother probably) kept saying crazier things. The men with them (spouses I presume) said nothing.
I didn't say anything since that wouldn't really solve anything and shaking/punching them would have been inappropriate (especially when surrounded by lots of Secret Service). One of my pet peeves about living is this area is the amount of people who either don't take advantage of all the things we have access to here (free museums/historical sites/a zoo, tree ceremonies with the First Family, volunteering at the Inauguration and other random events) OR who do take advantage of such things but spend the entire time complaining about the place or event they are attending. It is every DMV resident's right to complain about Metro but why would you complain that it's cold outside at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in December? This is why we can't have nice things.
I know it seems small and silly to complain about something like this; there are bigger issues in the world on which I should be focusing my attention. It's been a crappy few months in the world; an understatement I know. When so many horrible and challenging things happen, I like to take solace in small moments of calm and peace. That's the point of ceremonies like the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. It's something that is supposed to remind us all about the positive and the beautiful in the world. I was glad my friend wanted to leave immediately following the lighting of the tree; I don't think I could have dealt with any additional complaints or discussions about why Metro is the absolute worst. I understand everyone goes to things like this for their own reasons even if it is just to say they went. I wish people would act like they appreciate it rather than being awful. I know I can't control others but that doesn't mean I can't hope for something better for them. Maybe they thought my friend and I were being rude, leaving early and whispering to one another. Maybe I'm a Grinch.
On the more positive side of things, seeing the tree lighting did inspire me to get a real tree this year. I bought one of those tiny trees Trader Joe's sells. Another friend had the genius idea to use earrings as decorations. I bought woodland creatures and hipster cats to complete the look. I think it turned out rather nicely.
If you're in the mood for more National Tree themed viewing, you can watch a wonderful Hallmark (I know, I need a life) movie called The National Tree starring Andrew McCarthy. In addition to Andrew McCarthy, there are plot elements that include a stowaway and an improbable sequence involving the tree and fire. It's got drama and love and the pomp of a nationally televised event. Basically it's everything you could ever want in a holiday film. Enjoy!