Repost: To All The Christmas Trees I’ve Loved Before

Adonidia Palm -- also known as the Christmas Palm.

Adonidia Palm — also known as the Christmas Palm.

If there’s snow falling on this WordPress blog, it must mean that it’s December — and since I’m in south Florida at the moment, I have a feeling these digital dots may be the closest I come to the white stuff this holiday season.

Take, for example, my recent trip to purchase a Christmas tree.

In recent weeks, large tents have popped up all over. It’s as if lots and lots of circuses have come to town. But under these big tops — necessary to protect the fresh trees from the heat of the sun — freshly bundled Christmas trees are lined up like soldiers, the smell of pine is everywhere, and Christmas carols play from the speakers.

It’s also 75 degrees — and I’m wearing shorts and sandals, which are a far cry from my typical bundled-up Christmas tree shopping gear, although I did add a sweatshirt to at least create the illusion that it’s chilly.

This is the first Christmas tree Joe and I purchased in Florida, and so I am adding it to my list of Christmas trees I have loved. As I go about decorating it, enjoy the snow and this re-visit to a Christmas post from the past, an ode to the Tannenbaums that will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Christmas Blue House

Part of the blogging experience is visiting other blogs – for advice, for ideas, and in the case of this post, for inspiration. I recently visited Visionary Gleam, where Jim Lewis posted “O Tanenbox, O Tanenbox,” a humorous and poignant look at his family’s Christmas tree tradition and the story of the ornaments.

I am a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to this most wonderful time of year, a fact that seems to worsen as I age. Jim’s well-written post, however, has left me thinking. A lot.

No matter how cynical I have become, the Christmas tree has always remained my favorite part of the holiday. Now, as I drive around town and peek into the windows of my neighbors and see their decorated trees, I wonder about their stories – and I reflect on the ghosts of my own Christmas trees past – long past and recent past.

There’s a handwritten sentence in the baby book my mother started for me when I was first born. There, in her cursive writing, is a brief sentence about the moment when the love affair began: “2 1/2 years old . Really knows what it’s all about . . . He says the tree has meatballs and a star.”

Christmas House

Although I cannot remember that particular tree (but I would love a tree with meatballs), my first recollection of a Christmas tree was a large, green artificial one. Its branches, which had to be inserted into the trunk, looked like bottle brushes. I remember one early Christmas when my sister and I cut strips of red and green construction paper, looped them and interlocked them to make a chain, which still makes its annual appearance on my parents’ tree. Today, when I visit them, I can still see the handiwork of an 8 and 4 year old – not to mention my sister’s handmade angel ornament, with its toilet paper roll body, wings and head – and no neck.

A few years later, my father received a sleigh-full set of HO gauge trains and Plasticville buildings from his father. On the day after Thanksgiving, my sister and I were given strict orders to stay out of the den – and we listened to that order, never peaking inside to investigate what was happening in there. Each night, my father and mother would disappear into that room, carrying lumber and train tracks and a giant Christmas tree. Meanwhile, my sister and I strung cotton balls onto black thread – and these too disappeared into the room.

Then the morning came when my sister and I were lead into the den, eyes shut tight. Once inside, the door closed behind us, we opened our eyes and looked into pitch blackness. With the flick of a switch, organ and chimes carols started, and street lamps were lit. Then houses and shops and the farm, their lights glittering on the mica snow. Trains began to circle the town, passing in front of mountains in the distance. At last, the tree was lit, swirled in angel hair and visible through a blizzard of cotton balls.

It was an absolutely magical moment, one that delighted kids and adults as my family hosted an open house throughout the holiday season. What I remember most of these days is the peace found in that room, how neighbors would arrive to sit in there just to breathe, how joy could be delivered from a model train set, how the simplest of ideas (although monumental in my parents’ efforts) truly captured all that Christmas should be – something that seems to have gotten lost in today’s world. The photos on this post, taken on an old camera decades ago and now scanned, capture small moments from that display.

Christmas Fire House

Fast forward to my first Christmas tree with Joe. Prior to meeting me, he had lived alone and already had his own idea of how a Christmas tree should look. He explained that he always gets a live tree, and it’s decorated in white lights, red ornaments, red bows, and white candles (which we can no longer light because I won’t let him).

I think “perplexed” would be the word to describe the look on my face. No colored lights? Ornaments all of one color? No garland or tinsel? Where’s the beauty in that kind of tree? I suddenly felt like Lucy in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” horrified at the pathetic tree that Charlie Brown brought to the school auditorium.

Nevertheless, I trusted Joe’s Christmas aesthetic, and once it was decorated, I had to admit that it was a beauty – something worthy of a Macy’s window display. I remember thinking that maybe I need to be more open and tolerant of trees that were decorated differently – although, I do place one ornament on the tree that isn’t red; it’s the ornament that commemorates our first Christmas together.

Christmas Train

In a previous post, I mentioned my bi-zonality. This is best illustrated in a tree story. Early in our relationship, I worked in NYC. It was cloudy and cold and gray, and it smelled like snow – but nothing fell from the sky. On the train ride home, the further east I traveled, the snow on the platforms became deeper and deeper. By the time I reached home, there was a foot of snow – what better night to go get a Christmas tree.

Joe and I bundled up, grabbed the sled and trudged through the streets to the tree lot a few block away. There, under the white lights strung between the poles, we selected a tree – a process in and of itself – carried it onto the sled, and made the walk home, curtains of snow twirling around us, the only light coming from the neighbors’ Christmas lights.

By the time we reached home, we were numb and exhilarated; frozen and warm. That moment is the closest I have ever come to a Christmas from an earlier, simpler time. We were in a Norman Rockwell painting. We were running down Main Street with George Bailey in Bedford Falls. It’s a wonderful life.

I know this post breaks all of the unwritten rules of post length — but, like I said, Jim Lewis’s post on Visionary Gleam had me thinking a lot. Thank you for sticking with it.

Enjoy the holiday season — and enjoy the trees and the memories they create.

24 thoughts on “Repost: To All The Christmas Trees I’ve Loved Before

  1. I did not mind the length. Your writing is always interesting and inspiring. I too like the simpler Christmas now, and it is always the tree that gets me in the spirit. I know the true religious meaning of Christmas, but the tree is something special. I can just see you and Joe trudging the tree home.

    • Hi Donna. This year’s tree was trudged home on the back of a pick-up, windows rolled down, and it was promptly placed in a bucket of warm water. Have a wonderful holiday!

  2. Good morning, Kev! Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane. When I was a young child, we did not decorate a tree in advance of Christmas. I went to bed on Christmas Eve and when I awoke the next morning, Santa had arrived with a tree, decorated it, and surrounded it with gaily wrapped gifts for all the family! I, too, distinctly remember the magical moment when I was allowed into the unheated enclosed porch of our apartment in Queens. As your dad carried on the tradition, the room was off limits from the day after Thanksgiving, but the difference was that I NEVER saw any activity in or out of that room to give me any indication of what was happening behind the kraft paper covered windows on the French doors. Walking out into that extremely cold, dark room on Christmas morning, and with a flick of a switch, the magic began to happen. The same organ and chimes records, the lights, the houses, the trains, the SNOW in the HOUSE!!!! How did that all happen??? It could ONLY be SANTA!! When your dad went into the Navy, Grandpa never did the set-up again. So, I was overjoyed when Grandpa passed it on and your dad began the tradition all over again! I was 4 years old again, breathless with anticipation, and speechless with joy and wonder. Thanks for bringing it all back! This old aunt of yours wishes you and Joe the merriest of Christmases, and the healthiest and happiest of New Years! Love you always!

  3. Your mom and I had a similar Rockwell experience attending Midnight Mass in OLPH in Queens. She was pregnant with you and It was cold when we entered church. When mass let out about an hour or so later there was about 3 inches of fresh snow on the ground. It was so quiet you could hear the snow flakes hit the ground and the only other sound was church bells ringing in the distance and the crunch of our feet as we walked. We walked home in the snow, mom very pregnant, both lost in our thoughts and for some reason that particular night has stayed with mom and I throughout the years.A very pleasant memory and a future to look forward too.

  4. I’ve always thought that a planned out, themed tree would look lovely, too, but I’ve never had one as who can give up all those ornaments of years past, many which have so much sentiment and meaning? One of these years I’ll have more than one tree! I simply love Christmas. It’s always been a magical time, thanks to my Mom who worked hard to make it so, and now I enjoy making it magical for my family. Enjoy your Christmas tree of present!

  5. Wonderful piece, Kevin! I confess to being an exhausted Christmas-a-holic. When my kids were little my husband used to whisper to them, “Don’t stand still too long or your mother will decorate you!”

    All the cousins and nieces would gather at my house the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday season with cookie baking and gingerbread house decorating. I’d bake and assemble the house along with the Thanksgiving pies and set out bowls of candy and bags of frosting and let the kids have at it. We had some wonky looking gingerbread houses, but the kids have glorious memories of doing a house ‘their’ way.

    The years passed, the kids grew and somehow Christmas got smaller every year. The core traditions remain, of course: the tree, the lights framing the front window, and the beloved, hand carved Nativity scene complete with what my then six year old son called “the Casper Baby Jesus”. (And yes, it does look like a tiny one inch high little ghost with a smiling face!)

    Last year my dad got sick. He was in and out of hospitals from late October as doctors vainly tired to discover what was causing his weakness and other symptoms. One of the symptoms was an acute hearing loss which made it difficult for him to effectively communicate with the hospital staff. My family took shifts so he always had someone there with him, navigating the System, with a capital S. Needless to say, Christmas fell to the wayside as we all struggled to watch this formerly healthy, hearty man get whittled away without any explanation or diagnosis. He was back in the hospital for Christmas. The uncertainty was bad enough, but being stuck in a hospital for Christmas made the situation even more trying for everyone.

    My sister took the Christmas Eve turn and I promised to take over on Christmas morning. That Christmas Eve as I drove home, I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. As I pulled into my driveway, I vaguely noticed that someone had put the lights in the front window. My mind wasn’t really on Christmas as I opened the door to my house. Inside I found my husband, my gown children and their significant others ‘saving Christmas’. They had hung the decorations, bought and wrapped the presents and were in the process of decorating a live tree. It’s A Wonderful Life was on the DVD player and I burst into tears. It is, indeed, a Wonderful Life for however long we have it.

    Sadly, we lost Dad. But that Christmas Eve renewed us. We had Christmas in the hospital, along with presents, a bit of lasagna from home and the whole family around him. He rallied for a bit – long enough for us to get him back to his beloved Florida and out of cold gray New York.

    I remember last year’s Christmas as a kaleidoscope of strong emotions. That time, along with all my other Christmas memories is woven into a tapestry of connection – friends and family and holiday traditions that sustain and support me and shed a joyful light in even the darkest of times. Here we are at Christmas again. This year, my husband and kids are decorating and cooking right beside me. The house will be filled with those I love, both living and gone as each ornament, each zeppole, each cookie recipe brings them back to me.

    So, God bless those Christmas traditions and God bless you for reminding me of how important they have been and are to me.

    • Linda, thank you for sharing your memories — both painful and joyous. And I do think you planted the seeds of generosity and kindness when you posted those baking days. Have a wonderful Christmas and a year filled with happiness.

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