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For Trees, Januaries and the Lovely Ordinary

In the sea of this season’s joyous festivities, there is an annual tradition, as global and popular as Christmas itself, yet utterly heartbreaking; the undressing and discarding of the Christmas tree. Whether your Christmas tree has been grown in a forest, made in China or assembled of confused houseplants, there is a day, each year, when the time has come to strip it of its decorations - each taking a little piece of holiday magic with them as they’re stuffed into their year-long container prisons - and its warm, glowing lights that transformed your dark room into a cosy winter sanctuary lit with childlike wonder. And that’s not the worst of it. If you’re anything like me (someone that sings to plants and has deep conversations with forests), the real tragedy of this time of year is taking this little tree, this source of wintery scents and holiday spirit, this link to age-old tradition and celebrations of generations past – and either packing it in a plastic bag and throwing it in the storage, or leaving it out there, on the curb, in the cold, next to rat-infested garbage bags and broken furniture. There is no sadder sight for a Christmas lover, than the streets of New York in the first weeks of January. The city turns into a graveyard of pines and firs, all used and refused, with their short services completed and their man-made destinies fulfilled – still holding life in their greener branches, still waiting to get back to the forest ground. If you feel the above was overly dramatized, I envy you. There are only a handful occasions in my life in which I have wished I was less sentimental, and this annual Day of Tree Death is one of them. Having had a plastic tree for most of my Christmases (until recently learning real trees are actually more ecological, despite the horror), I have come to realize it’s not just about mourning a piece of nature. It is mourning the end of the entire season. Of holiday spirit. Years ago, as an idealist 20-something-year-old, I worked as a Travel Guide in several vacation destinations in Europe and Asia. For years I observed flocks after flocks of tourists leaving their lovely, warm, joyous, stress-free holiday paradises (that often had little do with where they were, and much more with how they were), and repeating the same things: “I don’t want to go home” “I wish we could stay here” “The holiday was too short” “It sucks to return to normal” I remember standing on the airport wishing them safe travels home and making a solemn promise to myself, a promise so sincere and sacred that it would shape my life for years to come; ”I will never live a life I don’t love to return to”. Sure, even as a young jet-setting, non-rent-paying, beach-officed, rich-without-money party girl I understood that life wasn’t always going to be as easy and fun as it was right now – but I just couldn’t bear the thought of it being as dull and uninviting as many of my guests made it seem. I never wanted a week’s holiday in Greece to be the sole highlight of my year, the ultimate TGIF, the only spark in the darkness of the life I’d built for myself. (I would come to learn that to many of our guests that’s exactly what it was, and that that was partly why my job existed. If you’ve waited for a year or two for your holiday and saved all the money and excitement in your life for it, so help me God if, when you finally arrive, your room is missing a pillow. But these are stories for another day.) Holidays, celebrations, trips and vacations are all interruptions. They are small, welcome, most of the time planned and expected exceptions to the rules of our lives – our routines, our patterns, our familiar ruts. Some of us give themselves permission to eat whatever and however much on Thanksgiving, before following a strict diet for 11 months. Others give themselves a break from all relationships and book a yearly vacation to Bahamas alone. As a child, I and my siblings were allowed, on Christmas and on Christmas alone, to stay up as late as we wanted to. For one night of the year, there were no rules. That was THE COOLEST THING EVER and a present equal to those under the tree. Throughout the calendar year our lives are sprinkled with lovely little interruptions. Whether they are nationwide holidays, visits from loved ones, trips or pre-booked concerts or plays, these events not only bring joy as we plan them and get to look forward to them, but also offer us something we might not have in our daily lives; whether it’s togetherness, time, adventure, new experiences, art, or indulgence. The chronically busy crave a relaxed beach holiday while the bored and the housebound yearn for an exotic adventure. The lonely and the connection-hungry can’t wait to invite everyone over for a holiday party while those seeking calm and quiet happily escape to a cabin in the woods for the big day. For many of us, this has been one of the hardest parts about the pandemic. The lack of the yearly structure, the out-of-ordinary, the interruptions, our favourite antidotes for whatever it is we’re missing from our day-to-day. For me, personally, one of the biggest surprises of 2020 was how little I missed all the things that were cancelled from my life. As it turns out, I needed a break from almost everything. As a 30-something-year-old NYC-rent-paying, full-time-working, music-aspiring ex-party girl I can certainly see where my naïve idealistic self went wrong. Holidays, festivities and vacations are supposed to be highlights. Why else would we have them? Life is not supposed to be just a long, fun holiday or beach party. How do I know? After nearly seven years of paradise life I quit and moved to one of the most demanding, draining cities on Earth and never looked back. (Don’t get me wrong – there have been plenty occasions during the past six years in New York, when I’ve wanted to drop everything and move back to one of those islands. Sometimes reality is just too real. But the point is, I haven’t.) That said, I also see her point. As lovely as it is to travel, or take a few extra days off, or put up Christmas lights and turn your apartment into a Santaland holiday card, it can also be lovely to return to whatever you were interrupted from. Back to routines, and schedules, the everyday, the wonderful normalcy. Because in the end, that – not the occasional break from it – is what you’ve chosen for your life to be. And this is where I stand by my idealism completely: If your “normal” feels like a prison more than a home, a let-down more than a warm reunion, changes have to be made. Life is short. Not as short as a week in Greece, but only barely. While the highlights are the cherries on top, you’ll go hungry on them alone. You get to design your life. You get to build your own sundae – all the way from the cone. And there’s no time better to do it, than in the start of a brand new year. All bets are off. All doors are open. All the flavor slots are still full. Sprinkles and all. Today as I gently lifted one ornament after another off the dry branches of my little tree, played the last round of Christmas songs and shed one last tear of Christmas nostalgia I spoke to the tree, out loud, “Thank You”. As I’m turning the page and stepping into the new year with gratitude and a new sense of peace and joy for my everyday - with and without its interruptions – I’m making only one resolution. To start Christmas a little early next year. Wishing you a wonderfully ordinary January, Love, Petra

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