I’d like to believe my very first Christmas tree was something out of a Currier & Ives painting: red bows, silver and gold ornaments, electric trains running in circles underneath it and presents piled high above it. That may not have been the reality, but that’s the memory I want to hold onto.
In the mid-sixties, aluminum Christmas trees were all the rage. Mankind entered the space age, and so did my family’s Christmas tree. Reflective silver branches lit up the room with an eerie metallic glow. My mother decorated the tree in a monochromatic color scheme of lime green bulbs, all the same shape and size. An electric rotating color-wheel projector lit up the silver tree from below, changing its colors from red, blue, green and orange as it slowly rotated. This scary silver-scaled monstrosity reminded me less of a Christmas tree and more of a multi-eyed creature from my favorite television show “Lost in Space”. Luckily the metal tree fad only lasted a season or two.
The nineteen-seventies brought more traditional Christmas decoration to my family tree. I have fond memories of my little brother and I staring into the shimmering multi-faceted ornaments, looking for a glimmer of Christmas magic inside the cut-glass. My brother looked a little too closely and scratched his cornea on a pine needle from the tree. He spent Christmas with a bandaged eye. He never looked at Christmas quite the same way after that.
As an older teen, I noticed my family’s Christmas decorations were being scaled down a bit. My brothers and I were bigger, our Christmas tree was smaller. There were less lights and ornaments on display. My holiday spirit was hanging by a thread. There was less joy and laughter now that my gifts consisted of sweaters and socks instead of Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots and wind-up toys.
In 1980, my wife and I married and we began our own Christmas tree traditions. Only live trees in our house from now on. Our first Christmas tree had to fit into our small basement apartment, so we were limited to the size we could get. We ended up with a tree that was wider than it was tall. We called it our Christmas Bush. I had never seen a round tree before that year.
I learned one lesson the hard way I set the tree up on the stand, filled it with water and mixed in a cup of sugar. I read somewhere that sugar prolonged the life of the tree. I covered the mixture with a quilted tree skirt and went about my holiday business. I didn’t have to add any water because the level never changed. A week later my wife noticed a strong odor under the tree. I lifted the tree skirt and discovered the sugar and water I placed in the stand had fermented and molded over, producing a putrefied stench that lingered in the air. With Christmas only days away, I had to find a quick solution. I hung pine-scented car air-fresheners on the tree to get us through the holiday. My neighbors must have been shocked to see my tree sitting at the curb on Christmas night as soon as the sun went down.
The following year, I made sure I cut additional inches off the bottom of my tree stump. I only wish I made the cut outdoors instead of inside the living room. I used my wooden coffee table as a saw-horse to hold the tree in place while I sawed the end off. I ended up with two end tables instead of a coffee table when I was finished.
When my children were small, our annual trek to pick out our tree was the highlight of the Christmas season. “This one?” “Too short.” “This one?” “Too Tall.” “This one?” “Put it in the Maybe pile.” Nine times out of ten we ended up purchasing the first one we looked at. The hot chocolate and cookies served afterwards always tasted fantastic no matter what our tree looked like.
We survived several Christmas tree catastrophes. One year our cats knocked down our perfectly decorated tree, smashing ornaments and shattering memories. The year our dog peed on our tree I understood his confusion. There was a tree in the living room, after all. One year our tree had a running sap problem that threatened to destroy our hardwood floors. At least we never had a tree with a spider’s nest hiding inside (that I know of). Bringing nature indoors is not easy.
Now that I’m older, my tree is a Martha Stewart 7.5 ft. Pre-lit Feel Real Nordic Spruce Hinged Christmas Tree ®, complete with built in electric lights that blink in a variety of patterns. My wife and I started a new tradition of decorating our tree on Thanksgiving night since our family is gathered in one spot, something we could never do with a live tree. We created hand-made ornaments displaying each family members name in glittery writing. Everyone tries to find a premium spot on the tree for their namesake ornament to make it stand out amongst the treasure trove of sparkling baubles we’ve accumulated over the years. And the look of wonder in my granddaughter’s eyes as she gazes at the tree reminds me what the holiday season is really all about. My Christmas tree may be artificial, but my Christmas spirit is very real. Enjoy the season, everyone!