Sunday, January 5, 2014

End of the Season!

Today is the 11th day of Christmas; almost time to pack up the Christmas Season for another year. Back in the day, by now the Christmas tree, which was always put up on a stand that was made from wood, was starting to really dry out. Those needles from the Frazier Fur were falling all over the living room floor and quite frankly my Dad was beginning to worry about the fire hazard. After all those old 12 volt serial strings of Christmas lights burned pretty hot.

Calling those days to mind reminds me of something that is not around anymore. Do you remember tinsel made from tin foil and lead? That was the staple of every tree back in the 50s and 60s. Those old icycles finally met their demise when the use of lead tinsel was phased out after the 1960s due to concern that it exposed children to a risk of lead poisoning. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded in August 1971 that lead tinsel caused an unnecessary risk to children, and convinced manufacturers and importers to voluntarily stop producing or importing lead tinsel after January 1, 1972. So the metallic tin foil was replaced with tinsel made of PVC film coated with a metallic finish and sliced into thin strips. Coated mylar film also has been used. But alas, these plastic forms of tinsel did not hang as well as tinsel made from the heavier metals.

Like most baby boomer families, we were thrifty. So instead of throwing the trees away covered in tinsel, but painstakingly removed each strand of tin foil and placed it on the cardboard form that kept it neat inside the package until the next year. The tinsel since it was the last to go on, was generally the first thing to be removed. After that came the glass and ceramic ornaments, we called them Christmas Balls. Throughout my entire youth we never made it through the season without at least one broken ball. Although several years we made it until the day the tree came down. Once the ornaments were safely packed away, we took the garlands off the tree. For us as well as most of our friends, the garlands were also made of tin or lead foil. The long strings were usually removed by rolling them directly onto their cardboard form. The problem with garlands is that for some reason they rarely fit back into the box they came from so the forms were usually stored open in the box of decorations. One year, I made the fatal mistake of pulling the garland off the tree into a pile on the floor. I swear, it took me half a day to get the tangles out.

Finally, it was time to remove the lights. But first, we needed to repair any of the strings that went dark because they got jiggled when the other ornaments were removed. So there was a frustrating hour, swapping out individual bulbs to discover which one had burned out, taking the whole string with it. That had to be done with the bulbs on the tree, because we did not want to wait for the bulbs to cool. For you younger readers, who didn’t had the experience of those hot 12 volt lights; you have no idea what fun it was keeping those strings all burning throughout the season.

One last inspection to be sure that we have gotten everything and it was time to haul the tree to the roadside for trash pickup. There was no “Grinding of the Greens” for mulch or similar conservation effort back then so the trees went with the rest of the yard trash. As hard as you try, there was always one or two strands of tinsel adhered to a branch or two of the tree. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree from the comics reminds me of seeing those trees lined up on the side of the street.

Today’s Christmas Trees don’t have tinsel on them anymore. We went from tinsel to wrapping the bulbs in spun fiberglass to give it an ethereal look. Christmas tree bulbs went from those hot 12 volt bulbs including bubble lights, to the cooler neon lights and finally back to cool 120 volt lights. One year, we even tried LED lights but despite being rich in color, did not produce enough light for a satisfactory result. Those LED lights are awesome in outdoor displays though.

So today, the tree comes down and the decorations get packed up for another year. It’s back to reality, be it school or work, the winter months are upon us complete with maybe some snow, just maybe. Down here in the south, we like snow because we don’t see it that much. Instead we have mostly clear, blue skies with highs in the lower 50s and lows in the upper 20s. Come to think of it, I’ll take that over 3 months of grey cloudy skies any time. Oh MY!

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