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Thursday, December 22, 2011

ODE TO CHRISTMAS TREES

One of the beautiful parts of Christmas are the traditional Christmas trees.  I still prefer the real kind and usually try to have one in my apartment.  But this year, because I'm going to be away, I am only having my small gold decorative tree.  When I put it up, with special small decoration and a string of lights, it looks very pretty and is just as satisfactory as a real tree.  These days many people prefer the imitation trees (much less trouble) but there is something about the scent of pine and cedar in the air that is missing when you use an artificial tree.  (So yesterday I bought pine-scented candles to make up for it!).

This is a story I wrote a few years ago about Christmas trees.  There are so many memories attached to Christmas trees.  I love seeing them, and my own tree always has decorations collected over the years, each with a special meaning.  (I buy a new decoration each year so I have something special to remind myself of that particular Christmas.  This year, as I'm using the small ornamental tree, I bought a tiny carousel when I visited the Burnaby Heritage Museum and it is hanging on the golden boughs along with my other Christmas treasures.)


"OH, CHRISTMAS TREE!"

Two weeks before Christmas. The tree lots are full of fresh-cut firs and pines. Families make special outings to pick this year's tree. Around the city, coloured lights shine heralding the Yuletide.

In the line-up at the Supermarket, I browse through the display of magazines, their covers advertising the
Christmas season, displaying showcase homes with plump trees bedizened with extravagant decorations. Some trees are sprayed gold or silver. And under the dazzling branches are heaps of designer-decorated packages.

I am reminded of other Christmas trees. MY Christmas trees. Although perhaps not so grandly decorated, they are distinctly memorable and remarkably special.

At home I open a box of photo albums and take a nostalgic trip to Christmases past. in a black-and-white photograph, hand tinted by my mother, is Tree Number One. My first Christmas tree: a spindly fir garlanded and hung with lots of tinsel and ornaments. Under its thin branches are the toys Santa has left. In front of the tree, on a little rocking chair sits a large doll with a frilly bonnet and pink dress. Next to it is a doll crib filled with stuffed toys and more dolls. Two stockings hang on the red-brick fireplace behind it, one lumpy with fruit and candy, the other a store-bought stocking full of surprises.

In another photo, taken several years later, the tree has ivory-soap 'snow' on the branches and garlands of popcorn and cranberries. My Mom enjoyed creating special effects for our Christmas tree. Under it are two dolls in highchairs, the boy dolls our mother lovingly sewed wardrobes for. Mine was named Tommy.

Every Christmas was magic when I was a child, a splendid family affair with a house full of visiting relatives and good cheer. Even when we grew older, each year at tree decorating time, it was a special family get-together with mom's delicious Christmas cookies, ginger ale and popcorn for treats as we dipped into the box of decorations and drew out a bauble for the tree. It was a time of nostalgia too, because each ornament had its own little memory attached.

When I grew up and had children of my own, their tree always had some of the decorations they had made: toilet-roll angels with cotton-batting hair and gold wings; egg-carton bells painted red and green and glued with sparkles; cut-out trees with sticker decorations.

One year we had a cookie-decorating contest. We baked sugar cookies, decorated them, and hung them on the tree. The most elaborately decorated cookie won. We saved the best one. They lasted a year or two until some mice discovered them.

Another year we set out a box of ribbons, glue, paper and sparkles and invited each guest that entered our house to make a special decoration for our tree.

Sometimes, other things had to make do for Christmas trees. The year I was going away to California to attend my daughter's wedding, my avocado plant served as a tree, hung with tinsel and silver balls. Another time, when I was living in a cramped bachelor suite, I decorated my ficus plant with lights and tinsel. The year I went to live in Greece, I bought a small laurel plant and decorated it with tiny lights and baubles.

I still have a few of the old treasured ornaments, and every Christmas as I unpack the decoration box to trim my Christmas tree, I am filled with nostalgia, remembering Christmases past: the chenille wreaths from my childhood trees, the expensive silver and gold globes bought to decorate the first tree shared by my husband and I; our children's special ornaments -- little ceramic bells collected on my children's visits to Santa Claus; special little gift ornaments made by friends; starched snow-flakes crocheted by my daughter; ethnic decorations from Mexico and China given to me by newcomers at the daycares where I have worked.

I always look forward to Christmas, especially to the tree decorating time. Some of those old ornaments are getting tattered and tarnished. Each year I have to part with a few, but each year I buy one new ornament to replace the old.


"Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches!"

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