While she acts like it's all unnecessary fuss, she admits to
enjoying it once all the frills of the season are up. I know this
to be true because a couple of years ago I was laid up with a
broken ankle for the holiday and couldn’t get over to do the
decorating and so Christmas never really came and she
complained that she never did have the spirit. Of course not.
There was no Everything tree, the centerpiece of the season.
Christmas isn’t Christmas without one. There were no
twinkling colored lights burning brightly in the living room
window, no shiny ornaments or the glowing red ribbon
garland. You see, Christmas is the pretty lights, the wrapped
packages, the music, the food, the stories, the old movies
and the memories warmed over every year at this time that lift
our hearts and replenish our souls.
My mother and I are the only ones left now, living our separate
lives in separate apartments. Mother never was all that
interested in the trappings of Christmas, certainly no kindred
Tinkerer she. To this day she would let the whole season
pass keeping to her quiet Christmas routine, reading Dickens,
writing greeting cards, calling friends and reliving and
reflecting on Christmases past … if I’d let her, that is. But I say
if you can’t get people involved in Christmas you can always
inflict it upon them. Some years ago I made for her a "pull-
out" Xmas. All year long the tree and “setters” sit on the
closet shelves individually stored in marked plastic bags
awaiting their time. Then, when the day comes, it takes me
under an hour to pull out and put up all. First we drag out the
fully decorated tree and plug it in, then the inside and outside
door wreaths, a nativity, a mobile, 2 table trees, a centerpiece,
several candles and miscellaneous table arrangements and,
voila, it’s Christmas. I used to put her Christmas up on
Thanksgiving Day until she complained that she wanted to
celebrate one holiday at a time and didn’t want to rush
Christmas. I have to admit she is right. Thanksgiving has
been sadly shorted with retail’s desire to lengthen the
shopping period. So I devote a second visit to putting up her
Christmas around the 10th of the month.
Then came the tragic year that consumer watchdogs came
into being and they decided that the aluminum tinsel icicles
were not safe and all of a sudden you couldn’t buy a box of it
anywhere. I think they decided tinsel icicles were a fire hazard
or maybe they had lead in them... I don't remember. They were
replaced though by some ridiculous plastic strands
manufactured in Hell by the devil himself. What of it you could
get on the tree to begin with was constantly charged with
static electricity and stuck to anyone who passed. If it couldn’t
catch and stick to you on your way by, it would blow off in the
breeze you created.
Tinsel icicles were the glitter of those "back when" Everything
trees and they have never sparkled as brightly since. With the
demise of aluminum tinsel icicles, so died the fine art of tinsel
There were wonderful hand-blown and hand painted glass
ornaments that Daddy had brought from his visit to Europe.
This was long before Christopher Radko made them available
to anyone who could afford the sixty plus dollars on such a
thing. There were selected glass ones from Hixon’s Flower
Barn bought during our annual must visit, and dime store
glass ones from Woolworth’s. Also there were the styrofoam
satin sheen balls that were constantly becoming unraveled.
There were colored metal bells, plastic bells, and ceramic
bells. We had painted and glittered pinecones that hung from
red ribbons, plastic icicles and some figure ornaments of
angels, santas and characters of the season. There was
nothing too good or too tawdry to make the cut, all were hung
together, year after year. There were no themes or color
schemes, everything was hung on our family tree, hence the
name "Everything Tree".
There were homemade decorations too that were made by
one of us kids in school or Brownies, homely things usually
made with toothpicks, clothespins, popsicle sticks, egg
cartons or paper plates. They were a strange assortment of
designs and mediums but sprayed gold and glittered
appropriate to the season. I'm sure the responsible artists
would have been glad to chuck their work but parents always
insist upon keeping such early creations. We hid them within
the tree as best we could so they would not be too offensive.
Besides, that's what an Everything tree is supposed to be, a
diary or scrapbook of the times of our lives.
As the “artist” in my family the Xmas decorating fell to me
early in life. I am the youngest of three and then at age nine
became the youngest of six with the addition of a step family.
As my siblings and step-siblings grew older, they participated
less and less in the family Christmas and were happy, I’m
sure, to have me take over the responsibilities. Keeping
family members involved was the hardest part of the work.
The men folk were delegated the task of getting the tree set
up. This included dragging it in from the patio and getting it
upright and straight in its stand, pre-testing and putting on the
lights and replacing any faulty bulbs. My family’s tree used
the big clunky C7 strings of colored lights right up until the
whole family had disbanded to their own lives in their own
homes, in other cities and even other countries.
When the men finished with their part they usually retired to
watch television and left the women to do the women’s work
of actually decorating. Once all the ornaments were on the
tree there came the annual argument about tinsel Icicles - to
use or not to use and if used what was the proper method of
application. Those family members who could not hang
Icicles one strand at a time, making sure each hung
completely straight with both ends pointing directly to the
floor were banned from touching even a piece of the
impossible stuff. There was to be no random tossing or
haphazard strewing, no clumps or tangles. My sister was the
only one who had such self-discipline and was a true master
in the art of proper icicle hanging.
I love to look at Xmas trees. I go every year to the garden
centers and florists that have those marvelously designed
trees with their themes and color schemes. For me, it’s like
going to a museum, full of beautiful creations. Of course the
ornaments start at six to ten dollars and go up to a hundred.
In all my years I have never actually seen one of those
designer trees in anyone’s home. Once, back when I lived in
a big house with a big family, I would put up an old fashion
Victorian type tree in the basement recreation room where we
young people would watch television and entertain our
friends. It had garlands of real popcorn and cranberries,
gingerbread men, fruit, candy canes, nuts and wooden toys
that one might have seen back in that era. I used little white
midget lights, back when they were not super bright and it
was all quite quaint.
But up in the living room, where the big tree was erected, we
had what I now refer to as the Everything tree.
Each year, a live tree was selected, usually after much
argument and withstanding the freezing cold of several tree
lots. Then we would drag down from the attic and unbox all
of the same ornaments we had spent years collecting. An
“everything tree” has multi-colored lights, garland and tinsel
and all the Xmas sparkle and frills that I’m sure would be
considered tacky by one of those floral tree designers.
Unwrapping every one of those ornaments from the tissue
paper and newspaper that kept them protected from year to
year was part of the thrill of Christmas.
Everyone’s presence was required for the actual and official
tree lighting. With the old Christmas records playing on the
stereo, the family gathered to see the culmination of all our
work. With a fire burning in the hearth, and all other lights
turned off, the switch was flipped on lighting that year’s tree.
We took a few moments to admire it and every year swear it
was the prettiest tree we’d ever decorated and then all would
go back to wherever they’d been and whatever they’d been
doing before being summonsed. But for a minute or so there
was a bit of thrill and a little magic before the tree was left lit
for the enjoyment of the indoor or outdoor passerby to revel