35. The tree

The centerpiece of Christmas for me has always been the tree. That’s as true today as when I was a kid. That one fact, however, is probably the only thing that hasn’t changed about our Christmas trees. Each year it continues to evolve.

Don’t be alarmed; we haven’t gone to an artificial tree. Not yet. Carole and I have vowed always to have a real Christmas tree. But we realize how much longer it now takes to decorate that real tree: days, rather than hours. We look at our neighbors’ artificial trees, which were put up in 10 minutes, and they’re beautiful, vibrant, perfectly shaped trees that look like they were just cut down this morning in the Forest of Perfect Trees.

Those trees look like they give off the sweet aroma of pine. The sad fact is our real tree doesn’t emit the aroma I remember as a kid. That’s possibly because I’m losing my sense of smell. Or perhaps it’s been three months since our tree left its forest home, and it is just aroma’d out by the time it reaches our living room. Whatever the case, my old rationale – a real tree smells like a real tree – isn’t true anymore.

My mom would buy the tree on December 23rd for $2 or $3, instead of the $10 we would have paid two weeks earlier. The tree we brought home was neither shapely nor tall, and needles fell off with every move. When “Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired in 1965, I absolutely recognized the tree Charlie Brown picked out. All it needed was a little love, which Mom – the Queen of Christmas – always provided.

The Christmas trees of my childhood looked the same year after year: colored lights; shiny, easily-shattered glass ball ornaments; tinsel placed one strand at a time on the branches (it took forever); and, l’m embarrassed to say, fake snow we sprayed from an aerosol can. (History will show that global warming began in December of 1953 in the Mitcheners’ living room.)

Today, only two of those decorative elements from my youth remain: the C7 colored lights, and a few of those bright, not-so-shiny-anymore balls, the ones that survived a 10-year-old trying to hang them quickly so he could go out and play.

The most important change in our modern tree is the ornaments. Most of our ornaments are souvenirs that call up meaningful memories: a friend, a story, a gift, a family trip, a favorite artist or movie. Probably like your family Christmas tree, ours serves as a nostalgic family album that we re-experience once a year. When our son and figlia-in-law come home for Christmas, they always spend time looking at the memories on the tree.

For example…

  • Homemade ornaments (made by very young Erin and Matt)
  • A fork (souvenir from North Fork, Long Island)
  • Tequila cup (given to guests at a memorable wedding parade in Queretaro, Mexico)
  • A pair of bright red cardinals (from St. Louis friends)
  • Red chili pepper (the time Matt and his best friend made a serious mistake turning Chinese take-out into a contest)
  • Political campaign buttons
  • A large, heavy angel (my brother’s gift to me for being his best man) that weighs as much as this year’s tree
  • And many other souvenirs from 170 years of life: tennis, Cubs/Bears/Bulls, movies, student gifts, Little League baseball, music, Penn State, Sicily, NYU, St. Louis, Chicago, and much more.

A big change this year was going from incandescent to LED lights. (LED, I just learned in a family Trivial Pursuit game, stands for light emitting diode. Impress your friends with that factoid; it’s my gift to you.) It’s weird to leave the tree lights on all day, and then touch the not-even-warm bulbs. We are told that 20 years from now, our son’s family will be able to use the same strands with the same bulbs, if they so choose.

And they’ll have plenty of ornaments to choose from, as well. Maybe it will remind them that no matter what’s going on in their chaotic world of 2039, there are some important things that haven’t changed from when they were young.

A belated Merry Christmas and happy 2020 from this old guy’s family to yours.

Charlie Brown (You can skip the ad at the beginning… another Christmas present.)


7 thoughts on “35. The tree

  1. One of my favorite Christmas memories is the smell of the tree. I haven’t had a real tree in years – just put up a little fake one in a front window with lights only. My first Christmas away from home I was just going to sort of ignore it, but friends persisted in celebrating Christmas so I broke down and got a little tree, bought some ornaments from the Navy Exchange and put it up in my BOQ room at Pearl Harbor. Smelled good .

    1. That reminded me of the small, but real, trees my roommate (Len Bopp) and I would buy for our Mizzou dorm room: lights, and a few ornaments. Made the more pleasurable because real trees were illegal in the dorms: fire hazard. We’d light the tree, turn off the other lights, and listen to Christmas music. Ray Coniff Singers was one of the albums; that’s how classy I was! Merry Christmas, TJ.

  2. We also have 2 trees this year. The artificial, pre-lit, you can choose between 1 of 7 lighting options, sits in the living room, and a small, real tree in the kitchen. And I agree, there is no “tree smell”, aside from the one provided by candles!
    Merry Christmas! I hope you are enjoying your visit.

  3. We had two trees this year Larry. The first real and beautifully shaped, but after practically all the needles fell off within two weeks we had to take it down for safety’s sake. We put up our first artificial tree, paid just 20 bucks, just to have something in the living room to put presents under. It actually worked out just fine. Think about it for next year.

  4. Hey, Larry!

    What’s a “ figlia-in-law“ & C-7 light (certainly not LED (duh, who didn’t know that one!) .

    Hugs & Happy Hanukkah from your one Jewish-growing-up friend💕

    1. Figlia is “daughter” in Italian. My figlia-in-law is from Sicily. And C7 is the size bulb on the tree. I guess you wouldn’t have reason to know that, would you, Suze?

      By the way, Suzie, the other Christmas post I considered (maybe next year) would have been entitled, “Dear Miss Rep”. Among the questions I’ve always wanted to ask that woman was, did she ever consider how her Jewish students — as well as other Jewish students in the school — felt during all of the energy consumption of producing Christmas Vespers? I’ve thought about that. In fact, I think you and I have talked about that. Judy Feldman is the other Jewish kid I knew (barely), also in choir.

      Happy Chanukkah, Friend.

    2. now, it’s Happy New Year, Larry & Carole, too

      Perhaps we can arrange another visit when I’m in the Chicago area this year ahead! And, then, we can delve into the “dear Miss Rep” issue. My hindsight is that she had no frigging idea that: she had Jewish students, that it made a difference, that Jews lived in Webster Groves. For me, I barely knew the difference myself and although I cherish my “christmas growing up” it has created quite a bit of religious observance conflict for me and the generation that I raised. It was not “just Webster” – it was the era of assimilation in the MidWest, particularly.

      I don’t ‘do’ Christmas trees anymore, never knew lightbulb sizes, really prefer LEDs especially since they don’t generate heat and have been to christmas tree funerals. HOWEVER, I do get away with a lot of Gingerbread house decorating and pretend that that’s not really about Christ-mas….it’s just “holiday time” stuff. How do you feel about that. BTW, my gingerbread houses, originally traditional, now adobe – are permanent and made of clay and fired. Then the candy and icing are lovingly applied, annually, and then can be washed off with warm water and house just stored away or put on a shelf for the year. I sell them and other related ceramic gingerbread kids, churches and other fun stuff.

      Y’know, them Jewish merchants!!! Hugs, friend, Happy New Year.

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