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This is the first year I got a Christmas tree for my apartment. After the mayhem of graduate school and locking down a job in New Haven, it seemed fitting to at last claim my rootedness in this space. It’s a live tree—something I’ve always wanted. My family’s Christmas trees were never real because Caspian and Callisto, our family cats, enjoyed climbing branches a bit too much. And the tree smells wonderful: clean and heady, as only pine can smell. Cinnamon spice ornaments and pomanders (oranges studded with whole cloves) further incense the experience. I cannot properly articulate how wonderful it is to come home from a stressful day at the office and breathe in the spicy sweetness of my living room.

And as I inhale, I think about the contradiction of the Advent season here in New England. Its weather is cold but its spirit is warm, it is darkened by early nights and lightened by the soft glow of candles. Yet above all these contradictions, Advent is a time of focusing. Because of the cold and the dark, I think we reach out more intentionally to life, bringing growing things—like Christmas trees—into our homes. Pungent reminders that even in the deathly dormancy of December, there is potential for life and new experiences.