Thoughts About a Christmas Tree from Vanuatu

Port Vila Poinciana Tree

A Poinciana “Christmas Tree” in Port Vila, Vanuatu

Where I am at the moment, across the International Date Line in Vanuatu, it is Christmas Eve, although you probably would not know it. There are no over-the-top decorations or Christmas caroling going on. No Bing Cosby or Dean Martin crooning tunes like my husband and I were forced to endure over and over in Rangiroa one year. It’s understated and quiet. People just go about their business.

These South Pacific islanders probably don’t realize how much Christmas is commercialized in places like The United States or, if they’re smart, they just don’t care what people do in The United States.

Eratap boat 1

Eratap boat

We went fishing yesterday for yellowfin tuna or mahi-mahi. It was overcast, high tide, with at least four-foot swells. I tried to shoot photos with my iPad — because I didn’t want to take the chance of losing my Nikon or cellphone, and my iPad was the most disposable piece of electronic equipment that I could afford to lose overboard — but the boat rocked too much. Needless to say, the only thing I caught was another lure. But it was the experience that was enjoyable — the journey — not the end result.

Where is the tuna

Fishing at Efate Island

Bouncing over wave after wave made me recall the year I was aghast when my mother told me she was not planning to put up a Christmas tree. I had just moved back to Minneapolis at that time from California. Not to put up a Christmas tree was shocking. No manger. No baby Jesus and cottonballs, what was the world coming to? Not even a danged candy cane or a bowl of mixed nuts adorned my mother’s living room. Well, I would rectify that. I marched over to her house, hauled down the ornaments from the attic and put up a tree. It’s what we do. I hung each icicle one by one and didn’t just fling them at the tree.

My mother didn’t seem to care, and I didn’t understand why. She said she had no kids at home, was not religious, and a tree was too commercial.

Chairs and kayaks

Eratap Harbor

My personal descent away from a Christmas tree was much more gradual. About 20 years ago, I switched from cutting down trees to buying an artificial tree, with flocking, no less. That departed from the norm. Family and friends could not believe I did it. But it was a conscious choice not to destroy trees. Plus, it was easier to remove a tree from a box and unfold the branches than it was to drive to a Christmas tree lot, tie a tree to the roof of my car and try to drive home slowly on icy, snowpacked streets in Minneapolis.

When I moved back to California, I downsized again. This time I bought a four-feet artificial tree from Target with all the lights intact. A table tree. An old-person horror. Just take it out of the box, shake it off and plug it in. Hang a few miniature ornaments for the cats to bat off.

Hut and boat

Sunset at Eratap Harbor, Efate Island, Vanuatu

Then one year I didn’t put up a tree at all. I just stopped, cold turkey. I declared that after 50-some years of putting up Christmas trees, I was all Christmas-treed out. It was enough.

My husband doesn’t celebrate Christmas because he is Jewish. He doesn’t care about a tree, and we usually don’t have family flying in for Christmas. Putting up a tree and hanging Christmas decorations all over the house just seems like too much work. Besides, I am in Vanuatu this year. Christmas is a state of mind, it’s in your heart, and you won’t find it in a tree.

Photos: Efate Island, Vanuatu, by Elizabeth Weintraub

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