Bringing an evergreen tree into the home (I guess deciduous trees would get pretty messy) and decorating it festively has been a Christmas tradition for centuries. Cars with trees tied to their roofs appear on neighborhood streets soon after Thanksgiving. Vacant lots are transformed into tree-selling businesses. Hardware and gardening stores add tree sections to outdoor spaces, usually in their parking lots. My family has participated in this ritual for 45 years. We were traditionalists for the first 42 years of our annual tree procurement, and every year for decades we searched for the perfect “real” tree.
For some reason it never worked out that we looked at trees in the daylight hours. Maybe because hours of daylight had shortened, weekends were jam-packed with other activities, planets weren’t appropriately aligned. Who knows. But purchasing a tree in darkness led to a few unfortunate selections. One tree purchased after dark had been spray painted green. This was only discovered in the harsh light of the next day. That night we had been in more of a hurry than usual, as it was not only dark, but also cold and raining.
It was difficult to spot copious shed needles surrounding the base of an otherwise shapely tree (that had probably been cut in September) in the darkness of the lot. Only when the tree was brought inside and positioned in its stand in the living room was it obvious how near death the tree was. Just walking by it elicited a gentle rustle of needles tumbling to the floor. One particularly affected tree, completely decorated, was a single step from baldness when I demanded we take it down and return it. My husband balked at this trouble, and suggested we coat the whole thing with hairspray as a stop-gap measure. No. Back it went, stripped of its decorations.
Each tree brought to the house went through several preparatory steps before being taken inside. God forbid that we could buy a tree in the morning, put it in a stand in the living room that afternoon, and decorate it that night. Over several days the trunk was freshened, branches opened, stand and decorations retrieved from the attic, tree hauled into the house, placed in a stand, and, if necessary, wired into an upright position. Even the freshest tree shed a few needles as it was dragged through the house. Many of these hid under carpets, beneath chair cushions and furniture, and would only be discovered gradually over coming years.
Putting guide wires on the tree became part of the process after one fully decorated tree toppled over in the middle of the night. For no reason whatsoever. That tree had been adjusted in its stand by someone prone under the tree, covered with sap and needles (I guess that could apply to both the person and the tree), who tightened screws into the trunk to achieve some sort of vertical alignment. Unfortunately, what appeared to be vertical from one angle was not vertical from another. We learned verticality did not guarantee a stable, perfectly balanced tree. Refer to first sentence of this paragraph. Let the decorating begin!
First the lights. Entire volumes could be written on this topic. Only let it be said that Christmas tree light manufacturing was revolutionized by companies changing the flow of electricity to each bulb from series to parallel (young people have no idea what I’m talking about, unless schooled in electrical engineering). Light bulbs got smaller, tangled cords became more of an issue; but eventually light strings got so inexpensive that, if one became frustrated beyond tolerance, the whole batch could be thrown out. Good riddance.
But getting fully functioning light strands spaced evenly around the tree was troublesome. It was usually a two-person job; a supervising stringer with a handful of light strands on one side of the tree, handing those off to the assistant stringer on the other side of the tree. The assistant continued placing lights around the perimeter of the tree until all strings were used. Miraculous if lights ended exactly where tree also ended, not falling short before the bottom third of the tree or with strands dangling from the bottom branches. Time to throw in the towel. An artificial tree, lights already in place, was the way to go.
We chose a tree in the low to mid-range price range, got our three boxes of tree home, and began the assembly process. Fitting the three sections of tree together was easy enough; large, medium, small, in that order. Now to connect the wiring for the lights from one section to the next and have all the light strings in each section turn on. Reading the directions suggested they had been originally written in a language that was not English, and translated into another language that resembled English but was sorely lacking in verbs. My husband almost never cursed (he left that to me), but the air around the tree was blue by the time the task was completed. Whew. Success at last.
I have always been in charge of hanging ornaments on the tree. I have been collecting ornaments for years, so I have a huge supply from which to draw, even to the point of designating certain areas of the tree for specific types of ornaments. There’s a large New York section (Bloomingdale’s, Statue of Liberty, Empire State building ornaments), animal group with a subsection of sea creatures, Santas (not “Santa’s” as word processing programs would have us believe, but “Santas” as in more than one Santa, not something possessed by Santa) but you get the idea. I derive great joy from this task, and, in our 2020 holiday, it is more difficult to find joy than in previous years. But it’s there.
Don’t give up. The end is in sight. Stay safe, and pray for each other.