I’m a purist when it comes to Christmas trees. They should be real (or at least green) and feature large colored bulbs, shiny glass ornaments and tinsel.
It’s true, many of us try to recreate Christmases from our preschool years.
My memories predate the aluminum tree craze of the 1960s. In case you missed 1962, every other house at had a fake silver tree spotlighted by a rotating color wheel because it was too dangerous to use strings of lights on these trees. Any faulty lights on a metal tree could get you electrocuted, so most families illuminated the trees with a rotating floodlight.
I have no idea what it was like to live in a living room that turned green and blue and yellow and red throughout the evening because my mother clung to tradition. A Christmas tree should be green and smell like pine. Every December we headed to the local grocery store or the tree lot at the Dairy Queen. We’d pick out a tree shipped in from Wisconsin or Michigan or some other northern place, take it home and turn it into a garish holiday extravaganza.
Our multicolored ornaments were made by artisans from Russia and East Germany where Christmas was forbidden. It was an irony lost on most everyone, much like holiday goods made in Communist China today.
Around 1958 my mother went all out, purchasing new glass ornaments from Sears. One of the large teardrop balls had a skier painted on one side. I had no idea what a skier had to do with Christmas, but it was one I liked to look at and I loved the colors: metallic blue, white, silver and magenta.
Mom’s Sears collection included some other peculiarities—snowmen coated with white mica glitter, a Santa figure with no legs, metallic fish and a couple of “guitars” which looked more like lutes. These foreign ornaments looked as if they should belong to another family, maybe one that liked to fish a lot or ski or play stringed instruments or lived in Europe. Nevertheless, over time this mishmash of holiday charm came to be expected.
My 1950s “icicles” are no longer tinfoil but Mylar, an onerous plastic that clings to sleeves, socks, dog tails and any object that comes close to the branches. Though I have had to reposition the icicles on a daily basis, my Christmas tree is all about re-creating the ones I remember when Santa and his reindeer visited my childhood home. My parents, purveyors of truth, said that Santa came in the front door though we had a fireplace. I already knew the flue had been sealed off to repel chimney swifts.
A considerable number of folks these days subscribe to the retail schedule of Christmas. Put up the holiday stuff at Thanksgiving and pack it away the minute after gifts are opened on Christmas morning.
But if Christmas is indeed a celebration of the birth of Jesus, why cut the party short?
Like Mom, I consider it crass to take the tree down before New Year’s Day. If that isn’t a rule, it should be. All that beauty should be enjoyed to the maximum.
Two of my most treasured ornaments are angels with skirts made from red and gold glass bells. The figures have pink metallic ribbon for wings and pipe-cleaner arms. Their heads are tiny doll noggins from the craft department of a 1950s dime store.
I marvel at how these home-made twins have held together all these years. I want to say they were a craft project from my brother’s Cub Scout troop. Or maybe they were made by a church lady who used to would send me cloth hankies in greeting cards.
All I know for sure is that I recognized the angels the minute I saw them while cleaning out my parents’ home several years ago. They took me back instantly to the bungalow I lived in as a preschooler, helping my family decorate a Fraser fir brought home in the trunk of our Plymouth. They reminded me of throwing the tinsel, basking in the opaque glow red, green, gold, white and blue Christmas bulbs. I could almost smell pine.
Of course secret to preserving treasured things is to not use them. Nothing ventured, nothing broken. I used to adhere to that theory, but I don’t any more. I’m comforted by these humble old ornaments. They make Christmas more Christmasy.