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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

O, Holiday Tree! O, Holiday Tree!

Thanksgiving trees
These are TRUE holiday trees.

The past couple of weeks, we've heard a lot about "holiday trees" vs. "Christmas trees," as people have discussed (and who even knew it was a topic for discussion), "Hey, what shall we call those evergreen trees that we cut down, prop up, and decorate in December? The ones with the stars or angels on top and the presents underneath?" For the record, I vote "Christmas trees."

I do have some experience with holiday trees, though. The three trees above stay up in a hallway of my church, all year round. And they are always decorated according to the holiday of the month or season. Here you see them as Thanksgiving trees. By next week, they'll be Christmas trees. Not long after that, they'll be Valentine's trees. I love it! Two lovely ladies from our church put them up as Christmas trees two years ago, in a spot where we'd never had Christmas trees, and everyone enjoyed them so much, that the lovely ladies just kept them there. I find them quite delightful. And they can, I think, legitimately be called "holiday trees."

I didn't know what it was called at the time, but years ago when I lived in an apartment with Lulu, we had a holiday tree in December. We dragged our tree up the narrow steps to our small apartment in a private home. But when we went to decorate it, we couldn't find the box marked "Christmas." We looked everywhere, and we found decorations for every other holiday, but no Christmas box. We couldn't afford to buy new decorations, so we made do. We decorated the tree with symbols from all the other holidays. Our Christmas tree was decked in Easter eggs, bunnies, American flags, witches, pumpkins, Valentine hearts, shamrocks and turkeys. Each new "ornament" placed on the tree brought a fresh wave of hysterical laughter. It remains one of the most festive trees I've seen, and one of my favorite Christmas memories.

Come to think of it, I also remember my least favorite Christmas tree. When I was about 10 years old, living in rural Delaware, a neighbor went into the woods behind our houses and came out with Christmas trees for his family and ours. The neighbor, Mr. Baker, was an elderly man, and very kind, with sparkling blue eyes and snow-white hair. The tree he gave us was a very nice gesture, except that it wasn't really a tree. It was a huge "sticker bush." That's what I called it then, and I still don't know the proper name for it. It was covered in sharp, prickly, coarse greenery. I guess Mr. Baker's eyesight was bad, and/or he was so bundled up and wearing thick gloves that he couldn't discern much more than the shape of the tree. And the shape was nice. But the tree was a menace!

My parents were raised, and raised us, to be very appreciative of gifts and to show our enthusiasm by wearing, using, eating or displaying them in the giver's presence, whenever possible. They did not make an exception for the sticker bush. While my father poured Mr. Baker a drink, my mother set about decorating the alleged "tree." I kept stage-whispering to her, "It's a sticker bush! This can't be our Christmas tree!" But Mom just shushed me and valiantly decorated on. The tree stayed up through the holidays, until Epiphany, which was (and remains) our tradition. I whined about that tree the whole time. When I walked past it, I'd make a wide detour around it, pretending to fear it, or I'd flatten myself against a wall and slide past it as though I were afraid it would attack me. When my friends came over, I'd caution them dramatically against getting too close to the killer Christmas tree. My parents never scolded me for any of this melodrama, which told me that although they never expressed anything but gratitude for what a thoughtful neighbor Mr. Baker was, they knew it was a sticker bush, too.

Do you have any Christmas tree memories?

24 heads are better than one . . .

Anonymous Sharkey said...

Do I have Christmas tree memories? Your post made me think of several.

Like how my grandpa would come over every year to help my mom set up our tree. Every year he would say, "How do you always manage to choose the one with the crookedest trunk?" as he attached it to the wall with wire to prevent it from toppling over.

Or how in college, my roommate 'inherited' an artificial tree from her older brother. We took it out of the box to find that it had only branches--no "trunk." So what did we do? We bought a wooden dowel (like you'd use for hanging clothes in a closet) and proceeded to drill holes in it. Then we assembled and decorated our makeshift tree.

I haven't thought about those things in years. Thanks for the memories, Susie!

Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

Well, the sap from real trees makes me break out in hives, but my mom would make me help decorate them anyway and then insist we lay on the floor with our heads under the trees to look up at the lights, which scared the hell out of me.

BUt we did have this one ornament that chirped like a bird every so often and she would bury it in the tree and it would scare the hell out of our poodle and it was sort of amusing to watch her bark at the tree...

Blogger Susie said...

sharkey, isn't that funny, how we don't really remember the "perfect" trees, but the ones that needed a little something?

jess, ohdearlord, this explains so much ;)

Blogger WILLIAM said...

My parents for years had an artificial tree. One year we convinced them to get a real tree After the holiday my went about taking down the tree when she discovered thousands of spiders in the curtains. Apparently there was a spider's nest/eggs in the tree, that once it was brought inside and warmed up the eggs hatched. My Mom went right back to the artifical tree after that. It's funny because my dad owns a garden center which sells trees every year and my mom will not get a real tree.

I like the idea of the holiday tree that your church has.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

Personally, I like to skip the tree and just hang ornaments from my...

Oh, man. Sorry. Wrong blog.

Blogger Mo said...

My brother, sister and I are each a year apart in age. About the time we were all in junior high (ages 12-14), mom had a broken ankle over Christmas. She sat and watched as the three of us decorated the tree. Of course, each of us had somewhere else we wanted to be, so we weren't exactly ho-ho-hoing as we hung the ornaments and tinsel.

Disgusted with our lack of Christmas spirit, mom woke up in the middle of the night and stripped the tree bare.

The next day, we were forced to redecorate the tree, while listening to Christmas carols which mom demanded we sing along to. Thankfully, we passed her Chiristmas cheer test, and the tree remained decked.

Blogger Susie said...

william, aw, man! I have always had real trees, but your mom's experience creeps me OUT! *shivers*

bucky, bucky, bucky. 'Tis the season to whip out the alleged schlong, eh?

mo, that's funny! Have FUN, dammit! You will take JOY in this tree, whether you like it or not!!!! Moms...

Blogger Nina said...

Those are true holiday trees . . . that is a cute idea. The trees in December will always be "Christmas trees" to me.

They say 'Christmas … creates a problem of exclusion' News items from across the country this week indicate that the U.S. has become the new battleground for Christmas.
As hard as I try I just don't get it.

While the kids were growing up, we had an artificial tree. It was cheaper and my little environmentalists (children of the 80's and 90's didn't like the idea that trees were cut down.) That was before the days of mulching trees and using them for firewood.

Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Christmas memories? Oh wow... you know, I don't know if I have any special memories of the holidays. None really come to mind at the moment... what do you think that says about me, Susie?

Blogger Ern said...

We always had real trees growing up. But growing up in a family that was extremely...careful...with money (read cheap) my dad would always make us pick out one of the very tall, but somewhat spindly Charlie Brownish trees from the back of the lot. Every year I would think, "this is going to look ridiculous!" But we would get it home, decorate it with all of the memory ornaments--some that were gifts, otheres remembering special occasions, many clumsy ones that my brother and I were forced to make in school--and sparkly garland and little colored lights, and every year it looked beautiful.

My husband and I have a really big fake hand-me-down tree with lots of branches now. It isn't quite the same...yet. But I suspect someday it will have lots of memories attached to it as well.

Blogger Squirl said...

The year that I was a senior in high school our dad was working in New Jersey. I felt that we needed some cheer so around the first of December I hauled out the artificial tree and decorated. I don't know about anybody else, but it cheered me up.

Blogger Andrea said...

Um, yeah. Our coat tree stood between the Christmas tree and the front door. One leg of the coat tree was on the door mat (only when the tree was up, to make room). Once, I was sitting on the door mat putting my boots on to go to school. Me sitting on the mat caused the off-balance coat tree to fall over...onto the Christmas tree, which itself then fell over. My mom freaked and spanked me, though she later apologized when she realized it wasn't really my fault but the stupid coat tree's. That was the last spanking I ever got (I think I was in third grade), and probably the most memorable :)

Blogger SierraBella said...

When I was little (many years ago) my parents bought an aluminum artificial Christmas tree and a color wheel.
My dad fiddled around behind the Hi-Fi (as opposed to the modern stereo), and fixed it so that the tree lights flashed in time to the music.
All the neighborhood kids came over to see this phenomenon.
The tree itself was an ugly thing, and lasted maybe two years before we went back to real trees.

Blogger eviluncledave said...

The memory that stands out the most in the Christmas tree department was the horrid slurping noise that the cat would make while he drank all the water from the bowl at the base of the tree. No amount of tree-shaking, yelling, or cajoling would deter him from what he saw as his solemn duty, and refilling the bowl was always sure to bring him a-running. At first we used a cut tree additive in the water to try to keep the tree green, but when the cat didn't change colors we figured it wasn't doing anything for the tree either and we stopped using it.

And then there was the time that another cat ate a whole bunch of tinsel off the tree. Nothing says "Christmas" like chasing a cat around the house with a six inch streamer hanging out of its butt.

Blogger MrsDoF said...

Those are Holiday trees at their most useful!
We usually had a real tree when I was growing up. Mom Loved the smell of pine in the house. However, since she is allergic to the sap (she breaks out in a rash), Dad did the setting up and Mom did the supervising of the decorations and children from the easy chair across the room.
The problem with the sap got an endrun when there became enough money to get a 'flocked' tree, which is some sort of artificial white stuff sprayed on the branches to look like snow.
Once fake trees with green colored branches got to looking realistic, Mom pulls one out of the basement storeroom and sets it up herself.

Here at our house, we had a real tree one year, provided by the place where Husband was working. There were barely enough ornamental doodads to cover all the open spots.
Other years, like now, I set a little ceramic tree and the Nativity scene on a table, the gifts go under there, and all is well. Decorationing is not my talent or interest or storage space.
What makes it a holiday for us is the cookies. I bake and bake and carry all over town.

Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

I can just see you, sidling past that "tree." Tell the truth, didn't it crack you up now and then? It would have set me off, seeing how many ways I could sneak by it.

Anonymous lawbrat said...

I was born in July and my dad took me, my first Christmas, to pick out the tree. I was about 6 months old. He came back with what my mom called the 'Charlie Brown Tree'. Apparently my dad felt bad for it, figured no one would choose it, so he did. Mom was none too happy and is still mad at him about that tree, 33 years later.

I think it was special that he cared about that lonely tree. For my mom, it has to be the biggest and best of everything.

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

Not having kids, I've never had to have a Christmas tree as an adult, and I never have. I've decorated the big pine in the side yard a few times, and hung a little holly from a picture of Mick Jagger (who is, incidentally, as old as Father Christmas), but have never been a Christmas decorator.

But I'm not against makin' the alleged schlong festive, either.

Blogger Amy said...

Oh I love those holiday trees!

And even more, I love church ladies who take upon themselves little projects and do them, faithfully, every year.

I remember one christmas my dad had knee surgery, and we hadn't gotten a tree yet, and two days before Christmas he came in the door of our tiny house with a real, big, beautiful tree. My mom gave him hell for carrying the thing when he was still post-op, but us four kids jumped up and down like we were on pogo sticks. Awesome memory. Thanks for sparking it, susie!

Blogger Dawn said...

i made a comment on your flickr page about how neat i think this is, we don't do anything like that here.

we always had a fake tree growing up. it was ok i guess, but part of me always wanted the real thing. at 18 when i moved in with my boyfriend and his family they did the real tree thing. that was the 1st time i ever had a real tree.it was really neat. they had this really big dog(140 lbs) that would knock the tree down with her tail everytime she would go by it. they finally had to tie the tree to the wall with string, it still cracks me up to think about it.

awesome post, i love reading about people's traditions, g'night.


Blogger Susie said...

nina, I can't take that controversy seriously, either. A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, from here. I'm not surprised that you raised little environmentalists ;)

ck, that says that you are an international woman of mystery, and a mom of three whose lovely head is filled with thoughts of THIS Christmas, rather than those Christmases. I hope this year you capture the best Christmas memories in the wowld that anyone has nebber seen.

ern, the childhood Christmases sound lovely. The way you describe your tree now, to have "memories attached to it" makes me think more kindly toward artificial trees. The memories really will be about that very tree, with more and more added each year. Nice.

squirl, putting up the Christmas tree has that effect on me, too. And it is one of the few areas in which I am able to delay gratification. We put it up late, and leave it up late. I like to enjoy it for a while after all the stressing -- shopping, cooking, visiting -- is done.

andrea, oh, poor kid! A Christmas tree spanking story. Glad it was your last. Spanking, that is, not Christmas tree.

sierrabella, I can imagine the "buzz" about that hi-tech tree, in your neighborhood. Makes me smile to picture it :)

eud, ohmygosh. You actually tested the tree additive on the cat, didn't you? I remember when "they" first started saying that eating tinsel would "shred" cat's insides. Up until then, we just thought it decorated their um, under-tail area when it emerged. Oh, and eeewwwww.
If you got a picture of your kitty, or if you can draw one, that's quite a Christmas card you'd have.

mrsDoF, first, thank you for introducing the word "flocked" into the conversation. Flocking was sorely missing around here. We have a ceramic tree that John's aunt made, and we love it. With the little tiny lights you put in the little tiny holes, right? I love that you do so much baking. Hmmmm, wonder if we could organize a blog cookie exchange . . . not really mailing cookies, but a day to post favorite Christmas recipes?
Anyone interested?

hoss, you're so right (you must have been 10 years old once!). I'm sure that's part of why I remember it so well, I made a big production of avoiding the thing, cracked myself up!

lawbrat, one of those little "snapshot" memories that capture people's personalities.

bucky, Mick Jagger, ha! Well, whatever you decorate, you know we'll want pix ;)

amy, aw, I can just picture you and your bouncing sibs :) I hear you on the church ladies; those two are something else. We have a few like that in our little church. Big givers of time and love.

dawn, there is something very funny about a dog knocking the tree down; I've known of that happening, too.
Wait, are you saying you're having an Ex-lax spasm? Whuh?

Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

An Ex-Lax spasm would decorate the tree in a wholly original yet vaguely (?) disgusting way.

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

Often we used to have flocked trees when I was a kid and I was always getting yelled at as I had a compulsion to pick off the fake snow. I couldn't help it. One year my dad flocked the tree himself in the underground parking garage of our apartment. For the whole following year I saw little tufts of the stuff floating around down there. I was sure we would be evicted if the landlords ever found out.

I love the idea of a Valentine tree. I might try that this year.

Anonymous Hänni said...

This is a lovely story. And I have to say those holiday trees are much more gorgeous than the Christmas tree I have standing in my living room.


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