Christmas Past

Christmas Past

Karen Butler-Kennedy

My father has always taken everything about Christmas extremely seriously. As far back as I can remember, he was always completely happy up until, and through, December 25th; then completely depressed on the 26th. This deep sadness would last a couple of weeks then blow over. I liken it to post partum depression. Christmas was his baby, no doubt about it.

It would start with the outdoor decorations. I wasn’t old enough to remember his outdoor decorating hay-day, but he’s got the trophies to prove it was serious enough. What I do remember is that my sister and I were not allowed to touch ANYTHING while the procedure of decorating the tree took place.

We’d kick off the Christmas season with the hunt for the perfect tree. We had vaulted ceilings, so the tree had to be 14 feet tall, a Silver Tip, and have just the right kind of structure. The branches had to be full, but with proper spacing to display ornaments correctly; they may never touch the branch below when hung. It had to have even branch distribution as well. We’d shop every lot in town, not to leave the elusive perfect tree unseen. Generally, it would end up being at the first lot, however. On occasion, if perfection was not available, my father would have the tree “plugged” with the correcting branches to achieve perfection. One Christmas the tree was brought home, wired with lights then brought back to the lot to be flocked over the lighting. This was amazing because it really gave the look of a decorated tree that had been snowed on.

The wiring of the tree was an amazement in itself. Each light was affixed to the branch so that it stood straight up with no wires visible above the branch. At just the right height, the placement would change from top-of-branch placement, to underneath-branch placement, with wiring above the branch. The completed work (yes…it was art) looked like the lights were individually placed, as the wiring could not be seen. Until they died from old age, the giant old fashioned lights were used. I miss this look, as the new tiny lights just aren’t the same; although they do require a very large tree.

With the tree wired and ready, the decorations would come out. Each was lovingly wrapped in tissue and stored together neatly in ancient boxes that were antiques in their own right. They ranged in age from one to sixty years, each with a history and story of its origin. My dad would unwrap each and every one of them and place them on every surface in the room. There were hundreds, but he needed to survey them all, in order to place them on the tree in the most strategic location. Optimum reflection, visibility, and height were all factors. It was understood that this was my father’s job. We would watch with great delight, but were not permitted to help until we were well into our teens. Each ornament was greeted with nearly ceremonial glee, and we each had our favorites that we looked forward to seeing. Once they were all put onto the tree, the tinsel would come out. This was no ordinary tinsel. This was the genuine article; corrugated lead tinsel that hung straight down from the branch, due to its weight.  This was draped over each branch to achieve the look of cascading sheets of rain coming from every branch.  The tree was such a thing of beauty that the neighbors would bring their guests by to look at it.

This kind of preparation comes with a side effect. The tree took soooo long to put up, and brought such joy, that it would not come down until Spring. Yes…you read that right.  It wasn’t rare at all to have the tree up through February.

Well, the pine cone doesn’t fall far from the tree it seems. I’ve found myself doing the exact same things, varying only in later years. I too would search high and low for that perfect tree. Take hours lighting it, and then place each ornament according to my hard wired decorating traditions. I too would not allow my children to help until they were young adults. I too would keep the tree in the house until it started curling in on itself as if it would swallow everything on it and implode. In most recent years, I’ve let go of the idea that each ornament has a certain place in which it belongs. I can actually hang them any old place, and it only bothers me a little. The wiring… that’s a tough one to shake. I didn’t hide the wires last year, or this year, and it does creep me out. But I found one solution to two problems, in the most unexpected thing. I use upside-down Christmas trees. They are artificial, so they can’t implode, grow crispy, or stink; and they allow everything to hang perfectly without touching the branch underneath. Perfect in their imperfection!

My father is 89 now, and lives with me. We each have our own upside-down tree, his with ornaments that are as much as one hundred, ten years old. One day, they will be passed down to my sister and I, and then to our children, and then to theirs. My tree has ornaments that are up to fifty years old, and these too will be passed down. Bottom line; we’ll need more trees…

So if life is giving you Christmas fits, remember, it could always be MORE of a chore. Be thankful that you aren’t hard-wired for lengthy decorating. But if you are… let me know. I’d like to hear if there are others out there with similar memories of Christmas.

My father has always taken everything about Christmas extremely seriously. As far back as I can remember, he was always completely happy up until, and through, December 25th; then completely depressed on the 26th. This deep sadness would last a couple of weeks then blow over. I liken it to post partum depression. Christmas was his baby, no doubt about it.

It would start with the outdoor decorations. I wasn’t old enough to remember his outdoor decorating hay-day, but he’s got the trophies to prove it was serious enough. What I do remember is that my sister and I were not allowed to touch ANYTHING while the procedure of decorating the tree took place.

We’d kick off the Christmas season with the hunt for the perfect tree. We had vaulted ceilings, so the tree had to be 14 feet tall, a Silver Tip, and have just the right kind of structure. The branches had to be full, but with proper spacing to display ornaments correctly; they may never touch the branch below when hung. It had to have even branch distribution as well. We’d shop every lot in town, not to leave the elusive perfect tree unseen. Generally, it would end up being at the first lot, however. On occasion, if perfection was not available, my father would have the tree “plugged” with the correcting branches to achieve perfection. One Christmas the tree was brought home, wired with lights then brought back to the lot to be flocked over the lighting. This was amazing because it really gave the look of a decorated tree that had been snowed on.

The wiring of the tree was an amazement in itself. Each light was affixed to the branch so that it stood straight up with no wires visible above the branch. At just the right height, the placement would change from top-of-branch placement, to underneath-branch placement, with wiring above the branch. The completed work (yes…it was art) looked like the lights were individually placed, as the wiring could not be seen. Until they died from old age, the giant old fashioned lights were used. I miss this look, as the new tiny lights just aren’t the same; although they do require a very large tree.

With the tree wired and ready, the decorations would come out. Each was lovingly wrapped in tissue and stored together neatly in ancient boxes that were antiques in their own right. They ranged in age from one to sixty years, each with a history and story of its origin. My dad would unwrap each and every one of them and place them on every surface in the room. There were hundreds, but he needed to survey them all, in order to place them on the tree in the most strategic location. Optimum reflection, visibility, and height were all factors. It was understood that this was my father’s job. We would watch with great delight, but were not permitted to help until we were well into our teens. Each ornament was greeted with nearly ceremonial glee, and we each had our favorites that we looked forward to seeing. Once they were all put onto the tree, the tinsel would come out. This was no ordinary tinsel. This was the genuine article; corrugated lead tinsel that hung straight down from the branch, due to its weight.  This was draped over each branch to achieve the look of cascading sheets of rain coming from every branch.  The tree was such a thing of beauty that the neighbors would bring their guests by to look at it.

This kind of preparation comes with a side effect. The tree took soooo long to put up, and brought such joy, that it would not come down until Spring. Yes…you read that right.  It wasn’t rare at all to have the tree up through February.

Well, the pine cone doesn’t fall far from the tree it seems. I’ve found myself doing the exact same things, varying only in later years. I too would search high and low for that perfect tree. Take hours lighting it, and then place each ornament according to my hard wired decorating traditions. I too would not allow my children to help until they were young adults. I too would keep the tree in the house until it started curling in on itself as if it would swallow everything on it and implode. In most recent years, I’ve let go of the idea that each ornament has a certain place in which it belongs. I can actually hang them any old place, and it only bothers me a little. The wiring… that’s a tough one to shake. I didn’t hide the wires last year, or this year, and it does creep me out. But I found one solution to two problems, in the most unexpected thing. I use upside-down Christmas trees. They are artificial, so they can’t implode, grow crispy, or stink; and they allow everything to hang perfectly without touching the branch underneath. Perfect in their imperfection!

My father is 89 now, and lives with me. We each have our own upside-down tree, his with ornaments that are as much as one hundred, ten years old. One day, they will be passed down to my sister and I, and then to our children, and then to theirs. My tree has ornaments that are up to fifty years old, and these too will be passed down. Bottom line; we’ll need more trees…

So if life is giving you Christmas fits, remember, it could always be MORE of a chore. Be thankful that you aren’t hard-wired for lengthy decorating. But if you are… let me know. I’d like to hear if there are others out there with similar memories of Christmas.

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