Christmas prep – at our house – starts the weekend after Thanksgiving and goes all the way thru December 24th. I like to think it’s deliberate – taking a month or more to drag out the “getting ready”. Some years we’re rushed but the house always seems to get decorated, the cookies baked, the presents wrapped, the cards sent, and the food shopped. There’s always a dinner reservation on Christmas Eve; always room in the pews at the late, late church service. But what if – some year – we dispensed with all of that prep? December 25th would still come, of course. But it wouldn’t be Christmas, unless we had a tree.
I can’t think of a single Christmas in my fifty-plus years when we haven’t had a fully-decorated tree. Whether the lights or the ornaments or the angel on top, the tree to me is the ultimate expression of the holiday season. Christmas trees have been standing since the 1500’s (proved by a sculpted image at an estate in France). In the late 1700’s, Christmas trees hopped the pond to America.
My affection for decorated trees dates to my early childhood in Los Angeles. Late on a mid-December day, my mother would pack my brothers and I into the station wagon, drive downtown, and meet up with my father after work. Near his office, hundreds of Christmas trees were being unloaded from boxcars in the train yard; some of them still fresh with snow. You may prefer the convenience of your neighborhood tree lot, but sorry; nothing beats the childhood nostalgia of picking a tree straight from a boxcar.
Since we never had snow in Los Angeles, we often had our Christmas tree “flocked” before taking it home. Flocking means placing a tree on a spinning stand and covering it with a product I can only describe as spray Styrofoam. As tacky as that sounds, the result is remarkably “snow-like”. Flocking even comes in colors (but I never understood why anyone would want pink or green snow).
As for tree ornaments, they’ve been around since Christmas trees themselves. What were once apples, candy canes, and pastries (elegantly simple, if you ask me) have now evolved into everything imaginable. On my childhood tree, I only remember those delicate, shiny, colored balls and bells; the ones which shattered on the slightest impact. We also had tinsel; endless garlands of thin strips of colored foil, and tinsel is a great word, don’t you think?
Christmas lights became a staple of tree decor in 1882, when an Edison Electric VP first added them to his family tree. The lights on my childhood tree – the multi-colored “C9” incandescent standard of the time – were connected to an illuminated star at the very top. A few strands contained transparent-colored “blinkies”. In hindsight, blinky lights sound as tacky as flocking but somehow, they worked alongside everything else on the tree.
Here’s a little Christmas tree trivia for you. The carol, O’ Christmas Tree, is sometimes sung in German, starting with “O’ Tannenbaum, O’ Tannenbaum…”. Guess what? You’re actually singing, “O’ Fir Tree, O’ Fir Tree…”. If you’re looking for the correct translation, go with, “O’ Weihnachtsbaum…” instead.
One more bit of trivia. If you find a tree decorated with nothing but white and gold Christian symbols, you’re looking at a Christmon tree. Blend the sounds and meanings of “Christ” and “monogram” and you come up with the portmanteau “Christmon”. Sounds (and looks) beautiful to me.
I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about finding a Christmas tree. Over 35 million are produced in the U.S. each year; another 60 million in Europe. The average cost of a live-cut Christmas tree last year was $73, and that includes a lot of really tall ones. Someday, I won’t be able to erect a nine or ten-foot tree in my living room anymore. No worries; I’ll just go with a table-top instead (a “Charlie Brown”, if you will). Her branches will be just as lovely.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.