Monday, February 4, 2013

Portland, Oregon Loving Christmas Tradition

Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree: 50th Anniversary. After overcoming the first question—what on earth is a singing Christmas tree?—the second question arises: who would pay to see a singing Christmas tree? On further contemplation, however, the answer presents itself: well, it’s a singing Christmas tree; who wouldn't want to see that?
The Christmas tree is a tall structure almost touching the roof of the auditorium. It’s cone-shaped, like  Christmas trees are, has places for singers to stand layered across the contraption, and colorful, controlled lights creating different Christmas illusions—deep green pine needles, yellow-gold candlelight. Choir members cover the entire tree and stand on bleachers, in this 300-voice-choir, live-orchestra production.

For the next hour and a half, the audience is dazzled, bombarded, with countless Christmas songs, flashing lights, Santa, an elf dressed in green, and giant camel-puppets. It is an and all-important and spectacular  extravaganza to those who are enchanted by massive Christmas spirit and religious connotations, but in reality it is a lot of people spending a lot of time and a lot of money to sing a lot of Christmas songs and spread the story of Jesus Christ.

The first Singing Christmas Tree appeared in 1962—when gas was thirty-one cents a gallon and the average house cost $15,000—when a group in a local church decided they wanted to bring something new to Portland. And what better to bring than a singing Christmas tree! With a small budget, the group of volunteers began a fifty-year tradition.

The first half of the show focuses on the secular side of Christmas, flaunting their pudgy Santa and zany elf, and singing common songs, like an intricate version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Then the show moves into the longer, second half with songs like Hark the Harold Angels Sing and Away in a Manger and a reenactment of the nativity scene: beautiful animal puppets, a manger for the baby, and dancers flitting down the aisles with white sheer fabric attached to their fingertips flowing gracefully behind them, angels flying down from heaven.

By the end, the air is thick with religious excitement, as grandparents smile in knowing satisfaction, parents look meaningfully at their children, ensuring appreciation of the significance of what they just experienced, and those who are not enchanted by Christmas spirituality rush out exhausted from trying not to laugh when Mary and Joseph embrace their baby and the woman sitting beside them wipes a tear off her cheek. It is a fun, extravagant production many find exceptional, but that is really a musical movement from secular to religious Christmas. To those involved and enthralled, it’s the center of the world. But take a step back, and it’s a bunch of people singing Christmas songs on a giant contraption made to look like a tree.

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