Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Ornaments

I received one of those nostalgia e-mails from a friend this morning. You know the kind; filled with pictures of things from the past. About half way down there was a picture of some frosted drinking glasses in a fall motif complete with a gilded leaf pattern. The second I saw that picture I was transported to the Christmases of my youth. We had a set just like the one in the picture, and although they were not true Christmas glasses, Mom brought them out only at Christmas time. Most of the season, they were restricted for use by the adults with eggnog, yes, the high test version. However, once in a while, I was allowed to fill one up with ice and a soda and enjoy a brisk holiday drink.

As I sat here, thinking of those glasses, I realized there were a lot of Christmas accessories that were in abundance back in those days that are not around anymore. We have modernized, improved and simplified; but somehow lost some of the things that made Christmas well, Christmas.

One of those things was the 12 volt “Cool Bright” strings of lights that were the standard at our house. These featured faceted bulbs that came in strings of 8 lights wired in series. Of course when one light burned out, it caused the entire string of lights to go out. By the time I was 10, I had become an expert in identifying the burned out bulb by starting out at one end of the string changing out the light with a fresh bulb, then switching the one I just replaced with the next one on the string and continuing until the string came on. The bulb that was in my hand at that point was the bad one. That process worked nearly all the time, the one exception was when there were two bulbs on the string burned out at the same time. Then I would start replacing the string with fresh bulbs from one end of the string to the other. When the string came on, I would test all the bulbs that I took off one at a time using one socket discarding the ones that failed to light when screwed in. After identifying the bad bulbs, I would replace as many of the fresh bulbs with the ones that passed. This way, the reserve of bulbs ready for use had as little burn time on them as possible.

I remember the “Bubble Lights” of the late 50s and early 60s too. These plugged into the same lines that the “Cool Bright” bulbs used and unmasked the “Cool” part of the 12 volt Christmas tree lighting. They burned hot enough to cause the oil inside to bubble. They never seemed to last as long as the regular bulbs.

Tinsel is another blast from the past that you don’t see much anymore. Tinsel’s demise came in two phases. The first being the replacement of the tinsel made of lead or tin foil with tinsel made of plastic. The second was the move away from tinsel altogether to wrapping bulbs in spun glass called “Angel Hair.” I remember that tinsel was the last thing to go onto the trees in the decorating process. Each of us kids was given a package of tinsel and then told to “have at it!” Being the tallest, I usually decorated the top third of the tree while my brothers and sister did the rest. In all those years, I don’t think we ever managed an even distribution of tinsel. I remember one year, narrowly avoiding a disaster when a strand of tinsel managed to insert itself under a model train track and nearly started a fire. The same thing happened with a penny; I sported a burned finger one holiday season from that adventure. The lead content of that old metal tinsel was a health hazard that none of us realized back then. But since we were not in the habit of eating tinsel much, I think we escaped that threat.

When it came time to take the Christmas tree down, the first and most arduous task was to remove the tinsel one strand at a time and carefully wrap it around the cardboard form it came on and pack it back into those flat boxes. It seemed to me that took longer than the rest of the process combined. I was never a fan of plastic tinsel. It never seemed to hang right on the tree and didn’t convey the illusion of snow and ice on the branches the way the tinfoil and lead tinsel did. This was especially true when some genius decided to make tinsel in colors other than silver. Those were the “dark ages” of my Christmas tree memories.

One thing has not changed for me over all these years, the live Christmas tree. Yes, it is true that the newer artificial trees look almost as if they were real. They are designed to perfection. And that is the problem, they are perfect. Every live tree has some imperfection and that is the beauty of the live tree. Each of those imperfections becomes a decorating challenge and each of those imperfections make that individual tree stand out in my memory. At this point of my life, that is a lot of trees, each one unique in its own individual glory. Oh MY!

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