December 01, 2009

I was scanning through my feeds in Bloglines tonight, and came across this post. Since I am such an irregular writer, I thought this might be a good way to contribute more stories to my 'blog cabin'. So - Here begins my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. (Click the link to see the entire list of prompts, if you'd like to start your own calendar of Christmas Memories.)

December 1 - The Christmas Tree
Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

We have always had a real tree. For a short time, we also had an artificial 18" tabletop tree, but it was considered decorative, and it never replaced the full-sized tree we always purchased, lit, decorated, and watered.

When I was an infant, the family solved the small-child/ornament-grab problem by standing the tree on a table inside the playpen, with the presents under the table and out of reach. I so loved waking up in the morning to the smell of Douglas Fir! Gives me goosebumps even today!

Because firs and pines are not Hawaii natives, trees were shipped in on a boat, and arrived brown and dried. Shopping for a tree was a calculated affair, because you didn't want to get one too early, nor did you want to wait until there were no trees left. Supermarket and box store parking lots were filled with all kinds and sizes of trees. Needles fell off liberally as we thumped prospects on the ground to determine freshness, and we could only keep them in the house for about a week before they became fire hazards. Christmas tree lights got hot enough to burn little fingers!

Once the tree came home, the entire family participated in tree decoration. Dad built a wooden platform out of 1x4s, to which was screwed the actual tree stand. Dad strung the lights, then we children and Mom hung all the ornaments, including the star at the top. We used foil "icicles" to make the tree all shiny, but, being short, balled them up and hurled them at the top branches. Mom always protested, and after we kids went to bed, she would painstakingly re-ice the tree, untangling the silvery strands and re-hanging them strategically so they would shimmer in the breeze that came through the open doors and windows. (It's warm in Hawaii in winter.) When the tree was done, we would gather round the piano and sing carols.

We used the same ornaments every single year, and they eventually grew quite shabby. One year, when I was about 13 or 14, Mom threw out every single one, because she was embarrassed by their condition. That was the year we made origami ornaments out of jewel-toned paper: cranes, frogs, balls, camels, and cut-out white snowflakes; and the tree actually looked quite festive! But origami doesn't last, so the next year, we bought new ornaments.

After I married, the tree we had for my son's first Christmas was a Norfolk Island Pine. These "pines" are native to islands, and last weeks indoors without shedding. As when I was small, we displayed the tree on a table-top to keep the decorations and lights away from tiny hands. Norfolk pines are difficult to light and decorate, so we tied ribbons to our Christmas cards and hung them from the branches - more in scale with the space between the branches.

Today, in California, we go en famille to a Christmas tree farm and cut a fresh 5' tree about two weeks before Christmas. We used to go to Union Mine Pines in Amador County, and the BIG issue, after cutting and netting the tree, was tying it onto the roof of our little sedan. Even with the purchase of the Ford Escort wagon with the roof rack, we always went through the ritual of the towels, duct tape, twine and tiedown bungees, crossing our fingers that we'd make the 40 miles home with the tree still attached. Depending on the selection, we might bring home a fir or a Scotch Pine. Now that my kids are grown and only one is still at home, decoration is less of a festive affair. We play Christmas music while Daughter and Dad string the mini-lights, reminisce over each unmatched ornament and how/from whom we acquired it, and place them on the branches. We do not hang foil icicles. We are again standing the tree on a table - albeit a low one - in order to be able to put gifts under it, out of the traffic pattern. Because the tree is fresh, we often need to top up the reservoir with about a quart of water every day for the first several days, and we can keep the tree indoors for several weeks. Every year, we seem to find the best-looking tree we've ever had!

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