Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas tradition and Christmas trees

I love Christmas trees and, of course, grew up in a household where we had one every year. Being in the 1950's it was decorated very traditionally and we of course had a Nativity Scene nearby, usually flanked with candles. My mother would even stencil Christmas theme images, such as Santa and his sleigh, using temporary white paint on the large living room window that faced the street. I still miss the old fashioned bulb lights for the tree. They are of the small size, but not like miniatures of today, and being opaque they had a softer light, with more variety of colors. I bought several strings on e-Bay back when I had my house some years ago, but threw them out when their old wiring almost zorched the house. I wish a company would make modern and safe versions of them. A typical string would have white (not clear), red, green, blue, yellow, orange and pink.

In those days, whether one lived in a small town, like me, or a city, in a house or an apartment, everyone had a tree and a Nativity Scene. Further, the "seeing the tree" was the big social event of the season! We did not eat out at restaurants, go to movies, or, heaven forbid, have wild parties. What people did was pay a social visit to their neighbors or other friends and family to "see their tree." Everyone's tree was different and many had home made or traditonal ornaments passed down in the family. So it was always a treat to be invited into someone's home to "see the tree." This usually was not a dinner occasion, but a quick visit in the evening or on weekends to have cookies and coffee, tea or milk, including eggnog (as I've blogged before, back then everyone drank milk, including men).

Visiting someone's home to see the tree was also an intimate experience. You were seeing the tree that the family has decorated for themselves, not as part of a home tour or to exhibit. Thus you were seeing inside the family and their tradition. Kids loved this activity, "getting to see the tree" and also having some homemade Christmas cookies. I think more people should do this again.

I enjoy decorating magazine articles about Christmas trees, except for one thing. They don't tend to exhibit genuine family trees as I described above, but designer poseur trees in order to make fashion statements, if you know what I mean. I don't want to see pictures of someone's "unique concept" of a Christmas tree decorated with bicycle wheels and bent drinking straws, for example, LOL. Decorating magazines have ruined the whole fun and genuineness of it by not profiling genuine regular families who decorate in the traditional ways, with their own genuine unique twists. Instead they profile those who belong to their own "art statement" crowd, who do not have a Christmas tree (nor a creche) as much as they have a show off session for their "chic" "concepts," including the worst, which is "deliberately rustic." So I wish that next year those magazines, and also TV news shows, would put the average person with the real genuine Christmas tree in their profiles and decorating articles.

One tradition I've carried forward from my family is that we decorate our trees using genuine fluffs of real cotton to simulate snow. I only buy real cotton and pull it apart into pieces of several inches each, and then place a dab on each branch, especially toward the outer edges. The effect is soft and amazing; it looks like real snow, and there is something about the smell of cotton that is so traditional and pure. We had a box in my family (an old cardboard candy box with a rose on it) where we kept the cotton, reusing it year after year. Modern cotton is not quite the same as cotton was produced in the 1950's, modern is fluffier while the older natural cotton was milkier and thicker. Still, there is nothing like using real cotton.

This year is the first year I've bought a white tree, and I love it. I plan to still put the cotton on it, though the effect is not so dramatic as on a green tree. I switched to an artificial tree years ago when I had some allergy problems. (Evergreen trees do not make people like me sneeze, but they may have a certain mold or scale that does cause an allergic reaction). Also, buying a real tree is pricey and requires tools I don't have in my apartment/storage room life. However, when I had my house, we would buy live Christmas trees (complete with root ball) and then plant them in the yard in the spring when the ground softened. On the advice of my "real estate agent" I had to have them cut down when I prepared my house for sale.

When I was a student my roommate and I decided to go out into the thickly wooded area around our college town and cut down our own tree. We did and it was fun, until we read in the paper that the college had problems with people like us since often other students were "studying" those trees. Oops. Well, I donated more than enough back to the college (sometimes $5000 a year) as an alumni, back when I was making that kind of money on Wall Street. Our cats would try to climb the tree and one in particular often succeeded in pulling the tree down!

I've decorated my six foot tall white tree with a large star on top (that blinks alternatingly blue and green) and with simple ball ornaments of red, blue, green, silver and gold. I've also worked during the year on a paper braid to drape around the tree, and am still adding length to it even as it is already on the tree. It's not a chain, but solid links created using a method that we as kids used years ago with chewing gum wrappers. I cut out of red, green, yellow and blue origami paper rectangles that are the same size as those old time chewing gum wrappers, and then hand fold each link. I also have a few, just a couple, special ornaments that I either made or bought. I'm sticking to the primary color theme of red, blue, green and yellow, and that is also the colors of the miniature lights I bought except, to my surprise and pleasure, the strings of lights also have pink! I bought the tree, the star, the lights and the ornaments at Wal-Mart. I have cotton left over from the previous two years, when I did not do too much of the Christmas decorating, except going through the motions (being stalked is a real damper on enjoying Christmas, making the Christmases previous very sad). Anyway, that is a description of the tree that I'm still decorating today.