Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!
People take great pride in their Christmas trees, whether they be real or artificial. They select one carefully — maybe pine, fir or spruce, taking into consideration its height or the fullness of its body. And then there’s the decorating! Colored lights or white lights? Bows and ribbons, or strings of beads? Coordinating ornaments or color-complimentary? Perhaps even a theme for the tree decorations. The possibilities are endless.
I cannot look at Christmas trees these days without reflecting upon my own childhood tree. Every year we’d take the monstrosity down from the attic; The moment we’d lift the it from the box, the room would be overwhelmed with the odor of stale, burnt plastic.
Yes, it was artificial, but this was before fake trees actually looked presentable. This tree was made of badly molded plastic. Granted it was tall and full bodied, but in this case perhaps less would have been more.
For decorating, mini lights hadn’t come into vogue yet so we had large colored bulbs that got quite hot when lit. Plastic greenery and hot Christmas bulbs were a bad (and likely toxic) combination; We had many boughs melded together as result. Also, the tree stood in the corner of the living room, right against the baseboard heater, sealing all the lower branches into one big solid mass.
For ornaments, we used two kind of Christmas balls. One set was made of powder blue velveteen. Our golden retriever was particularly fond of these and we were hard pressed to find any completely in tact or without teeth marks. The other set had royal blue sateen fiber wrapped around them. The cat claimed these as hers, unraveling strands of the static-y string with each bat of her paw. Whenever we’d rehang the cat’s play toy, long ropes of sateen would catch and stretch from branch to melted branch, creating a blue spider web across our tree.
Tinsel is not something you see much of these days, but back then it was our tree’s crowning glory. A single fat rope of silver garland swaddled the greenery. It looked like someone spun the pre-fab plastic giant while spooling a metal boa around its midsection. The effect was something like our tree wearing a sparkling silver tube top.
For years, I begged my parents for a real tree. Finally, one Christmas, my father brought home a small sapling to fit on the table top. We still had our plastic tree, but the real one was mine to decorate as I liked. I didn’t have much to hang for decorations that year, but soon people were giving me ornaments, individual as the people who presented them to me. I cherished them as much as I did the tree.
With each holiday season, our real tree got larger and larger finally replacing the plastic one altogether. I don’t even recall what happened to our artificial tree. It’s most likely still decomposing in some landfill, but I can still vividly recall the sights and smells of it all.
Now married with children of my own, I still choose a real pine or spruce to deck our halls. Together as a family we spend copious amounts of time selecting just the right one to bring home. Unfortunately, our eyes get bigger than our living room some years. Does anyone ever really use the front door anyway?
Our tree is a hodgepodge, with no theme or coordination. Instead, childhood ornaments hang on the branches allowing me to recall the family and friends who gave them to me so many years ago. I will admit, there are no blue velveteen or sateen ornaments though. And no tinsel either. I can remember that all on my own, almost as well as the smell of burnt plastic on Christmas morning.