O Christmas Trees

A reminder: This is Day Four of The Seven Days of Pricklesmas Contest. Details here!

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who had a real Christmas tree. Our tree was artificial and broke down into three parts, which we kept in Hefty bags in the crawl space beneath our basement steps. When we put it together, my parents would spray it with pine-scented air freshener, which only briefly fooled our cats.

My grandparents had an AWESOME tree, which was made of aluminum, and required careful assembly (the image above is an inferior modern replica). What looked like a silver broomstick drilled with holes was screwed into the special tree stand (which was a revolving stand that had a miniature Santa and reindeer going around it). Then, a big cardboard box with many tiny compartments was brought down from my grandparents’ attic; each compartment housed a different aluminum branch, and each branch was stuck into a different hole in the silver broomstick until the tree took shape. Then we hung ornaments on it, which were all the same, pink and round and shiny. And then a tree skirt was swaddled around the base, which was white felt dotted with multicolored glitter, like a blanket of newly-fallen snow.

This was just the opening act. More cardboard boxes were brought down from the attic, and each one contained carefully-wrapped treasures that went under the tree. There was the Nativity scene, of course. But there was also a village of tiny cardboard houses and a church, covered with glitter and fake snow. Trios of ceramic singing nuns and choirboys. Plastic deer. Bottle-brush trees. Kissing angels. It was our job, as the kids, to unwrap these delights, place them under the tree, and spend the rest of our time on our stomachs, playing with them, as the Johnny Mathis Christmas album played on the stereo and our grandparents set up the rest of the room (including a multi-colored light that revolved next to the tree, which gave the illusion of turning it different colors). In some ways, the unveiling of my grandparents’ tree and its dreamy underworld was more exciting than the unwrapping of our actual gifts.

But all dreams must come to an end, and sometime in the 1980s, someone in my family (an adult, no doubt) convinced my grandparents that the silver tree was tacky. So it was sold to some lucky, lucky person, and my grandparents put out a tabletop tree after that, which allowed very little room underneath for treasures, so those went by the wayside, too. I guess the grownups in my family didn’t realize just how much the tree and its accoutrements meant to the rest of us; it really was the focal point of our holiday, and its removal punched a big ho-ho-hole in our experience.

Lest you think this story has an unhappy ending, I’ll provide you with an epilogue, which began a few years ago, when my sister managed to find a nearly-identical vintage aluminum tree (on eBay, I think). And then, when we were in an antiques store here in Providence a little while ago, we found the revolving stand with the tiny Santa and reindeer, still in its original box! Our holiday dreams never truly died — they were just waiting for us to reassemble them, branch by silvery, glittery branch.

P.S. I’ll be on the “Reading with Robin” show on WHJJ 920AM tomorrow morning from 7-8am. If you’re an early bird, I hope you’ll tune in!

4 thoughts on “O Christmas Trees

  1. My twelve year old niece refers to the ceramic nativity figurines my mother inherited from my grandmother as, “The God Set”.

  2. I love these stories. I loved my mother’s family and their tree in the basement, we’re Italian and that means all family events take place in the finished basement, which stayed out year round fully decorated and was just in a cornered covered with a plastic bag during the “off season”.

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