The Gifts of the Christmas Tree

The tradition in our home is to put the Christmas tree up sometime during the weekend following Thanksgiving. The reason for this is found in a combination of factors including timing (teachers catch an extra day or two off during this week), the beginning of Advent (usually, but not always the Sunday after the Thanksgiving, but for all practical purposes), and holiday maximization (starting the Advent / Christmas season BEFORE Thanksgiving seems so, well, unseemly, but immediately following is allowed).

Thus the Lorenzen tree is in place and decorated. We have an artificial tree because I am allergic to pines, spruce, and other varieties commonly used for the purpose. Our current tree is nothing Charlie Brown would be called a blockhead over but it’s not much younger than our fifteen year old son and it is starting to show signs of age and having moved three times. It’s missing branches and tilts perceptibly towards the center of the room.

Tree time is a treasure. It takes all of us to get it done and even our teenager is still involved in the process, helping retrieve the tree from the attic and hanging ornaments. I am useless with the lights, so that is my spouse’s job, but I get the tree up and in place and try to arrange the branches, starting the yearly Velveteen Rabbit process of making the artificial tree real. The first playing of Christmas music in the house is reserved for tree time.

Christmas Trees and their decor have always fascinated me. Probably because I grew up with A Charlie Brown Christmas ( yes, that’s the official title) and with a grandmother who published books on how to make ornaments and wreaths from pine ones and sea shells. I don’t have too many of my grandmother’s ornaments. My mom still has most of them. Alberta Figueiredo Carlos died in 1983. Here are two of the ornaments she made. Both are nearly as old as I am.

I stopped and contemplated these ornaments as I put them on the tree. My grandmother lived in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. Over the years we’ve accumulated some things for the tree that remind me of all the time I spent there. We have an ornament of Ned’s Point Light house and a quahog rake and basket.

Remembering Mattapoisett reminded me of my home town, Leominster and we have a couple of ornaments on the tree from there, too. Leominster, Massachusetts as you may or may not know is the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed and apple orchards can still be found in town and in the surrounding area. We’ve always hung apples on our Christmas tree? When our son was three years old, he went up to the tree and as we hung the apples, took them off, put them on the tree skirt under the tree and kept repeating, “Shhhhhhhh-The apples are sleeping!”. We found this to be hysterically cute, but it wasn’t until a week or so later whe we were at the orchard that we really got it. There above the bins of macs and courtlands and empires was a huge wooden sign with a picture of an apple in bed a bunch of Zzzzzz’s over its head and the caption “Shhhhhhh -The apples are sleeping!”

There is, of course, the ornament memorializing our son’s first Christmas and the first year we were married.

There is a Winnie- the – Pooh collection, because I am a huge fan, a Red Sox ornament because I am a huge fan, and KISS ornament because I mentioned that I was once a huge fan in a sermon and a member of the congregation remembered ( of course I made it more memorable by sticking out my tongue a la Gene Simmons).

What about your Christmas tree? If you celebrate Christmas and do so by putting up a tree, what gifts does your tree give you long before there are gifts under or on the tree. In this season as so many of us try to end the conspicuous consumption, revel against the consumer culture and reclaim the spirit of the season, how might the tree itself offer its gifts? what treasure of memories, symbols, and relationships are to be found in your tree? Please do share. I will consider it a gift.

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One thought on “The Gifts of the Christmas Tree

  1. Okay, so you reminded me of one of our trees …I was about 12. Mom was really into theme trees, and she had amassed a huge collection of seashells, from all those years of walking along the beach while my father wade-fished. Dad drilled some holes, she strung monofilament — ornaments.

    As we decorated the tree, Dad — grinchlike, sitting in his chair watching us — said to my mother, “Those ornaments are heavy. You need to put more on the back or you’re going to have a big mess.”

    She ignored him.

    We finished decorating the tree and stood back to admire it. It really was beautiful.

    Mom went back to her bedroom to change clothes and the rest of us watched the game.

    Suddenly, as if in slow motion … creeeeeeeak … down came the tree.

    Dad jumped to his feet and began waving us away from it. “Don’t touch anything,” he hissed. “Leave it for your mother to see.”

    Well she did, and there was the hubub of putting it back up. Not too many sand dollars crushed.

    To keep that from happening again, my mom hung coffee mugs all over the back of the tree. I can still see them, hanging there, like some kind of a twisted coffee-lover’s tree.

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