The Christmas season is upon us and, ho ho ho, it’s time for decorating. The main event for many of us is a Christmas tree, which can be real, meaning it was once alive, or artificial. There are a variety of options for real trees. And within each class of tree, there are choices as well. Fir trees, for example, include: Balsam, Fraser, Canaan and Douglas to name a few. Some real tree enthusiasts remain steadfastly loyal to Spruce or Pine. Because a tree purchased from a lot may shed its needles before the New Year, some people cut down their tree. Today, many tree farms allow you to roam around the selection of trees in the Fall and label your tree for cutting in December. This eliminates all those freezing ventures, stomping through deep snow, trying to select just the right one. Most of us who’ve cut down our own tree have not experienced an adventure equal to that of the Griswald family.
Artificial Trees – From Feathers to Foil
Alas, in my family, we’ve gone to what some may consider the dark side and now have an artificial tree. It’s prelit which eliminates all that tension around stringing the lights. Artificial trees have been around since the 19th century, with Germany developing this new concept in the 1800’s. The German’s used green-dyed goose feathers and attached them to wire branches, which wrapped around a central dowel rod that served as a trunk. The poor geese were now unadorned.
Eventually, the feather trees gave way to ones made from brush bristles. The Addis Brush Company used their toilet brush machinery to construct the trees that were then dyed green. And then, in 1958, aluminum trees were manufactured in Chicago. I have a clear memory of my mother-in-law’s white tree perched atop a card table with a rotating light shining on it, changing it from red to green to blue.
Ornaments and Tinsel
In addition to lighting, there is a plethora of ways to decorate a Christmas tree. Some prefer themed trees using only one color. Other trees may have a variety of shaped and colored ornaments, but still maintaining a theme such as Nutcrackers. My Christmas tree has many Santa’s from my collection and ornaments my children and grandchildren have made. One Little Lucy ornament is quite old, as I made it when I was a child. Notice I did not say how old.
A popular decorative item adorning Christmas trees is tinsel, which has been augmenting Christmas trees as early as the 16th century. It was used to enhance the flickering of candle flames, which were the original tree lights. Candles on a resin-rich tree were, of course, dangerous. To make this custom as safe as possible, branches above the candle had to be carefully trimmed back. In addition, the candles were usually mounted on holders that had a metal dish to catch any hot wax as it dripped.
No Tinsel For Me
My Christmas tree does not contain tinsel. And this is mostly because of my distressing childhood memories regarding placing tinsel on our Christmas tree. Tinsel placement was a tedious and painstaking process supervised by my father. We were all required to do our part, carefully lining up the tinsel on the tree one strand at a time. As a child, I could sit and read for hours, but hours spreading tinsel on the tree? No thank you. When I got older, I realized that if I asked to do the back of the tree, I could get away with less precise tinsel placing. That didn’t last long as my father liked to inspect all sides of the tree. And when he saw that my technique did not meet his standards, I was relegated back to the front.
Spiders To The Rescue
There’s a Ukrainian folk tale explaining the origin of tinsel, spun over and over again, from family to family in Europe. It’s called The Spider and the Christmas Tree , and as is the case with most folk tales, there’s a couple of versions. But they all involve a poor, down-on-her-luck widow with children and a plain Christmas tree with no decorations. While they sleep, spiders come to the rescue, spinning webs that sparkle in the morning light. This story is so popular that natives of Ukraine decorate their modern Christmas trees with spider webs, believing they represent good fortune.
The tale of the Christmas Spider is similar to many magical stories about Christmas traditions. We can create our own magic with personal choices of beautiful Christmas decorations that bring us joy year after year.