We’re Christians. We celebrate Christmas. Some of my earliest memories are of being dressed up as a shepherd for the Christmas play at church. Other childhood memories revolve around our family events and decorating the Christmas tree is one I remember best.
Growing up, decorating the tree began long before Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. Shortly after Thanksgiving, we’d pull out the boxes of ornaments and decorations in preparation for the fun. Mom and Dad seemed to keep everything year after year. Some items were long past their useful life and had seen much better times in much better shape. That didn’t matter.
The sparsely populated red and silver simulated popcorn garland from the early 1970’s along with its equally pathetic green and silver garland that was missing more than half its own foil were carefully wrapped around cardboard and stored for another year. More thread than sparkle, we didn’t understand why Mom kept it.
Light strings with bulbs of various sizes presented an electrical challenge each holiday season, but Dad was technical and only muttered a little under his breath as he repaired cords and replaced bulbs.
Getting the tree was a family event. The five kids bundled up and eagerly ran to wooded areas of the farm to search for THE PERFECT TREE, not that any of us knew what that meant. We frequently ran from tree to tree, doing a quick assessment of attributes before dismissing that one for arbitrary reasons and running to another.
Did I mention this was not a Christmas tree farm? It wasn’t. It was a dairy farm in northwestern Connecticut. Most of the trees were hardwoods, not varieties of pine. Maple, oak, birch, hickory, cherry, and poplar were plentiful; spruce, fir, pine, not so much. Our selections were limited before we stepped out the back door of the farmhouse.
So we ran and ran until it began to get dark and we grew tired. Eventually, we settled upon one and Dad came over with the ax. He looked up at the top of it and asked if we were sure. We all agreed and he quickly felled the victim, a hemlock. He grasped the base and began the long drag home.
Yes. We dragged the tree out of the woods all the way home. Through the woods, down the cow path, across the lawn, right up to the back door. There, we stood it up to look at it again. Now that it was next to the house, our renewed sense of perspective revealed how large it was. It towered well beyond the height of the door. It measured at least fourteen feet. It would never stand straight in our ten foot ceilings. We should have gotten a clue when six-foot tall Dad looked up at the tree in the woods.
Out comes the ax again. We lopped off three feet or more from the base and decided to drag it into the living room to finish sizing it down. Taking it by the stump, we scraped walls as we wrestled it through the kitchen, took a ninety degree turn, through the dining room, another ninety degree turn down a narrow hallway, and a final turn into the living room.
We tried to stand it up in the center of the room but the top branches bent over so badly when we did, we knew we’d have to cut more from the base. With the tree in the living room, there was no space to swing an ax and Mom didn’t want sawdust everywhere, so we dragged the tree through the house to get it outside the back door trailing bits of bark and needles the whole way.
We cut a couple more feet off the base and dragged it back through the house once again. This time, there was enough room to stand it fully upright. The branches sagged outwards and reached the four walls. No problem. We hacked off the branches from one side and shoved the tree against the wall. Now the remaining branches came at us in a semi-circle almost halfway across the room. Some more hacking and trimming with brush clippers soon tamed the situation.
By the time we finished lopping and snipping the tree into it’s designated area, we faced the reality of a clearly visible 6-inch trunk through the remaining branches which lacked much of the desired greenery now. We had large areas of brown sticks with freshly cut ends showing white. This was our decorating canvas.
Dad stabilized the base and strung some lights. We helped where we could but got in the way more than truly assisted. Once he stepped back, we moved in.
“I need something heavy over here to pull this branch down some and fill the hole.” one sibling said.
“Here’s that plaster hand print from pre-school on a ribbon. It’s pretty heavy.” suggested another.
“Perfect. Hang it here.” one said.
Ornaments we’d made, bought, or somehow collected over the years appeared from the several boxes and made their way to the tree. Some were strategically placed, like the hand print. Others were actually hung as decorations. The tree leveled and sagged with the growing load. Almost done.
A few wraps of gold, red, green, and silver garlands helped mask the gaps even more. The pathetic simulated popcorn foil strands contributed what they could to add sparkle and distraction to the voids as well. We were ready for the final stage.
We grabbed handfuls of tinsel and practically bombed the tree with it. There was no artistic flair or expression. This was four boys and their baby sister pelting a tree in the living room with imitation icicles. After a brief explosion of noise and silver strands we let it all come to rest. Picking a stubborn strand of static filled tinsel from the side of his face a sibling announced, “The tree is done.”