The tree is up and the house decorated for Christmas, so c’mon St. Nick, bring it! As I sat in my easy chair last night enjoying the twinkling lights and the piney scent, I was transported back in time to all those trees of my youth. And such trees they were too. All were live trees, no 50’s artificial trees for us!
Picking the Christmas tree each year was a family affair. Dad packed us all into the car and off we went in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Sometimes we would get lucky and find the tree in the first lot we saw. Other years it seemed that we must have checked every lot in the city before coming home exhausted with our trophy tree. But the work was just beginning. Immediately the tree went into the stand, the stand into the living room and the lights and ornaments onto the tree.
The earliest tree stands that I can remember were made of two crossed boards that were nailed to the bottom of the tree trunk. Sometimes as the tree dried out, the nails would loosen and the tree would come tumbling down. There is nothing quite as sad as a tree laid out across the living room floor with the lights and bulbs strewn all over the wrapped presents beneath. In later years as stand technology improved the incidents of fallen trees diminished. When some genius invented stands that held water, the trees stayed greener and lasted longer.
The arrival of the tree in the living room of our house was actually the second harbinger of Christmas in our house. The first being the Advent Wreath on the dining room table. Usually two of the four candles were in use the weekend the tree went up. I remember wondering if there would be enough of first candle left for Christmas Eve since it would have been in use for four weeks by then. Somehow there was always enough candle; I think it was because Mom was an expert in managing the length of time we kept the wreath burning during our evening meals. Still it was a joy to be able to go into the living room after dinner and still be greeted by our brightly lit tree. I would even do my homework on the floor by the light of the tree.
My favorite chair was always next to the tree, where I could sit and gaze at my favorite ornaments and anticipate the arrival of Christmas. I must be honest, being a kid there were times when it was all about Santa Claus and the reindeer, but at other times. I began to anticipate going to church in the early morning of Christmas day to climb the winding stairwell to the choir loft to sing all those joyful Christmas Carols. I particularly loved the ones we sang in Latin; we learned the meaning of the words as we learned the songs. We were so young that the boys sang the soprano parts and the girls the alto parts of the hymns. As our voices began to change, we trained to be altar boys and moved to the front of the church from the choir loft. As one of the tallest, I often was chosen to be the cross bearer and lead the procession into church, or the “master of ceremonies” who assisted the priest in the celebration of the Midnight “High” Mass. After Midnight Mass, we would gather at my cousins’ home for our traditional pizza breakfast before going home around 2 AM for a little sleep before Christmas morning.
We always had a full sized tree in our home back then. Even after I moved from home and had my own tree, it was full sized. As my mother got older, she went to a smaller tree in front of the fireplace and eventually to an artificial tree, backlit with one of those multi-colored light wheels on the floor. I swore that we would always have a live tree in our house. The last couple of years we have gone from a full size tree to a tabletop tree. But it is still a tree that we cut down ourselves at a local Christmas tree farm. The living room remains full of the fragrance of pine needles and the warm glow of bright Christmas lights. And that is the way it should be. Oh MY!