Summer savings time just ended, and the days are getting shorter and colder. We start looking forward to some celebrations with family and a Christmas tree — oops — I mean the Holiday tree!

This may be what I should call it, but it does not ring right to my ears. Maybe I need to return to my childhood. How about “Tannenbaum”?

Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum

how loyal are your needles

and not just green in the summertime,

but also in the winter when it snows.

This brings me back to a December, 1959, event in Princeton. My husband and I worked for Princeton University and got to know and admire the distinguished professor of philosophy, Walter Kaufmann, who invited us to a Hanukkah party. In his living room was a beautifully decorated “Tannenbaum” with live candles. Fresh evergreen fir gave off this woodsy scent. The delicious food and drink and music reminded me of my home in Germany. Overcome by all the experiences, which touched all my senses, while saying good-bye to Walter, I wished him “Merry Christmas.” Recognizing immediately my gaffe, I apologized.

Walter just laughed and put his arm around me and said: “We all enjoy some of the pagan customs.”

My husband and I visited our older daughter Catherine in the 1980s in Israel, when she was the engineer for the project to build the foundation of a power plant in Ashkelon. With her and her Israeli friend, we took in many Kibbutzes, Moshaves, Holy Cities, archaeological sites, Bedouin camps, the Temple Mount, the Lebanon trees, and then in Bethlehem the stable where Jesus was born. No “holiday tree” was to be seen in this town at the end of a dirt road.

In the northern hemisphere with days getting shorter and nights longer, we celebrate the winter solstice in December. We are begging the gods, Thor and Odin, and other good spirits with bonfire and 12 live candles, one for each month, for light and warmth to return. And it seems to work!

And what a perfect representation of long life, rebirth, and prosperity is this evergreen fir tree, the Tannenbaum. No surprise that the “Tannenbaum” became the Holiday Tree for folks who celebrate the Yule Tides, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa decorated to express their feelings, beliefs, hopes, and tastes, a tree perfect for the Winter festivals, which bring us together under the Holiday Tree.

Hella McVay studied mathematics at the Free University of Berlin. She taught and chaired the mathematics department at private and public schools for 25 years. She worked for Alonso Church on the Journal of Symbolic Logic at the University and at Siemens Research Lab in the president’s office. She was a founder of The Whole Earth Center in 1970. For many years, she volunteered for Planned Parenthood in Trenton. She exhibited 30 of her photographic canvasses at the Millstone River Gallery in 2017 in a show called, Patterns of Nature. Hella created with her husband the McVay Poetry Trail in Greenway Meadows 10 years ago. It has 50 poems from a dozen lands and cultures with a theme of wonder and awe before the natural world, which has been a solace to folks during this difficult year.