RSVPhillippi | DECember 2016
All Spruced Up
By Dennis Phillippi
When I was a kid the only people who had fake Christmas trees were weirdoes. The first fake trees I remember weren’t even green, they were silver or blue and the only families who had them were the same families that had fondue pots, macramé plants hangers, and avocado colored appliances. Like I said; weirdoes.
Every family I knew had a real Christmas tree. It was a huge privilege when you reached the age where you were able to go with your dad to pick out the tree. The fact that you had reached a point where you had an actual input on something as gigantic as the Christmas tree was a true right of passage. Of course, what it really meant was you had gotten big enough to help carry the beast.
Once the tree had been selected and paid for, my dad and I dragged the behemoth out to the country squire where he tied it to the roof with twine. This involved a good bit of cursing, another yuletide tradition. Then came the slow ride home, him making every effort to not have to get out of the station wagon in the middle of a busy street and re-secure the spruce that had escaped. Finally the dragging of the too large tree through the too small door, which elicited more curses. The tree was then placed in the red and green metal stand with four equidistant screws that were supposed to aid in setting the tree vertically, but really involved a lot of laying under the prickly pine as you were yelled at to tighten or loosen one screw or the other until, exasperation led to a tree that remained at a 10 degree angle throughout the holiday season. During the five weeks or so the tree was up, between Thanksgiving and New Years, the smallest, in this case, me, had to slide under the increasingly dry and stabby tree, being burned by thumb-sized multi-colored bulbs that were an obvious fire hazard, to pour water into the base…and onto some of the presents. After Christmas the thing was hauled to the street, silver icicles and all, to await its trip to what I can only imagine was briefly a very festive landfill.
Today only 21% of US households have a live tree, considerably below the 32% that don’t even bother to put one up at all. Honestly, it’s always a surprise to me when someone goes to the effort to put up a live tree when fake trees these days are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. 48%, obviously math majors, of US households have artificial trees. We’ll ignore the irony that the vast majority of those come from China.
When we were first married I insisted on having a real tree because that’s the way I grew up. The annoyances and difficulties of having one were part of what made Christmas Christmas. The scratches gotten from having to stick your hand into the tree while hanging decorations, the inevitable cat trapped after trying to scale it, and the millions of pine needles that kept appearing almost until the next tree was purchased were things to be endured because that was how it was done. Clearly I was an idiot.
The first Christmas trees were apparently hung upside down from the ceiling, which would make for a pretty difficult time putting the presents under the tree because they would also have to have been hung from the ceiling.
One tradition that I really could’ve gotten on board with was that for many centuries at the end of the season the discarded tree was set on fire. When I was a kid all you had to do to get me enthusiastic about something was to set it on fire. Many of these tree fires were probably accidental as the modern Christmas tree lights we have today weren’t invented until Ralph Morris came up with them in 1895 because he was tired of people’s houses burning down at Christmas because the trees were lit by candles. That’s genius, put a drying pine tree in your living room and then fill it with burning candles. Festively deadly.
My wife and I have been married for over thirty years, which means we have three decades of ornaments on our fake tree. We’ve gotten ornaments on most of our vacations, people have given them to us, and we even have some bows that my wife made for our first tree. That’s a lot of stuff in one tree. That’s why we discourage people from going to the back of our tree. The back of our tree is the island of misfit ornaments. The ornaments we got in the eighties, the ones we cherish even though they’ve been broken, and the ones whose origin we’ve forgotten get to face the wall.
All of this may give the impression that I am not a fan of Christmas trees, or Christmas in general, and nothing could be further from the truth. I am a Christmas nerd. Even though I am as tone deaf as Barney Fife I sing carols all through the season. We put a lot of effort into our Christmas card every year, going so far as to borrow someone else’s children and their dog for it for the last fifteen years. What’s a Christmas card without kids, even if they’re not our kids? We have bins of holiday decorations and we spend days putting them in the same places all over our house every year. When the holiday season rolls around there are always those people who claim that there is a war on Christmas. Well, if that’s true then someone should tell the stores that start selling Christmas stuff in October, the drunken carolers who invade my neighborhood every year, and the two of us, who probably own twenty Santa hats. If someone is waging war on Christmas, they’re losing.