I finally put up my Christmas tree the other night. It’s artificial, only two feet tall and sits on top of my curio cabinet. Times certainly have changed.
Just a few years ago, I was adamant about having a real tree. For one thing, I wanted the house to smell like Christmas, like evergreen. An artificial tree doesn’t smell like much of anything – except, in my case, maybe a little like mildew.
When I was a kid, the only artificial trees in existence looked nothing like real trees. They were made out of shiny silver aluminum, with an even shinier silver trunk. And I guess because putting electrical lights on metal branches probably would have caused something other than the tree to light up, the tree was illuminated with an electric wheel of rotating colors, which were projected onto it. My mother always thought those trees were an insult to both nature and Christmas. Every time she spotted one, she would cast it a look of such intense dislike, you would think a skunk had just sprayed it.
My mother was a perfectionist when it came to buying and decorating our Christmas tree each year. Going to a sales lot to pick out a tree always was a lengthy process. Back then, unlike now, there weren’t many perfectly shaped trees to choose from. And they were a lot scrawnier than the nice, full ones of today. So my mother would have the tree-lot attendant show her one tree after another. One was too short. Another was too tall. Another had too many bare spots. What she’d finally end up doing was asking the guy to drill holes into the trunk and stick branches into it to make the tree fuller. This, of course, resulted in those branches getting dry and turning brown much faster than the tree’s original branches. But at least Mom was happy.
I always enjoyed decorating the tree – with one exception. My mother loved using something called angel hair around the lights. Believe me, the stuff was like a lethal weapon. It kind of resembled cotton, but was made from actual glass fibers, so when I touched it, it felt like a million little pins sticking into me – and then it made my skin all itchy. Every time my mom asked if I wanted to help her put the angel hair on the tree, I’d make up some excuse not to – like I was going to go lie down because I thought my appendix might be on the verge of bursting.
The angel hair wasn’t the only pain-inducing decoration, however. There also were the tree lights. They got hot back then…really hot. There were no such things as “cool touch” or “energy saver” lights. No, if you touched a Christmas bulb that had been lit for a while, it could blister your skin. But those lights were much better, according to my mom, than the lights that were popular when she was a kid. Back then, they consisted of candleholders that clipped onto the branches and held lit candles! I can’t imagine people being brave (or foolish) enough to put live flames on tree branches. I’ll bet a lot of houses became piles of ashes during the holiday season in those days.
My mother also was a big fan of silver tinsel. She would hang the strands one by one, strategically placing them so they all would be the exact length on each branch. I enjoyed hanging tinsel my own way, which involved putting it into my mouth and then blowing it onto the tree. Wherever it landed was fine with me. My mother, however, nearly needed CPR every time I used my method, because the tinsel would land helter-skelter in clumps everywhere.
After I got married, my husband and I decided it might be fun to go to a place where we could chop our own Christmas tree. We trudged through knee-deep snow in sub-freezing weather and looked at so many trees, they all began to blur together after a while. Still, we couldn’t find one we both liked – not even the one that still had a bird’s nest in the branches. My husband thought it would be cool to fill the nest with Christmas bulbs. I didn’t share his enthusiasm.
When we finally were so cold we couldn’t feel our faces any more, we decided to just chop down the next tree we saw. It wasn’t until it was lying on the ground that we noticed it didn’t have any branches on the backside. So we brought it home and stood it in a corner of the living room.
While my husband was at work, I decided to surprise him and decorate the tree before he came home. As I was stringing the lights on it, something flew out of the tree. I didn’t see what it was, but I spotted its shadow in the sunlight on the wall, and I could have sworn it was a bat. I rushed to the phone to call my husband.
“There’s a bat in the Christmas tree!” I cried, the minute he answered. “I’m scared!”
He rushed right home…to find me hiding in the bathroom. I told him I wasn’t coming out until the bat was gone.
I could hear my husband going from room to room, and finally, I heard a loud “smack!” He then shouted that it was safe for me to come out of the bathroom.
I did, and he was standing there, smiling and shaking his head. In his hand was a rolled-up magazine.
“Here’s your bat,” he said, showing me the carcass of some squished flying insect. I figured it must have been frozen in the tree and then thawed out in the warm room and was resurrected. It looked like a big horsefly.
“But it made a huge shadow on the wall!” I quickly explained, embarrassed I’d made him leave work to come kill a bug. “I could have sworn it was a bat!”
My husband grabbed a marking pen and wrote “bat killer” on the cover of the magazine…and then teased me about it for years. We never chopped down our own tree again.
But now, I have a small artificial tree – not by choice, but out of necessity.
You see, my new dog, Eden, believes that everything on the floor is her property. In the past two months, she has completely unraveled two area rugs and eaten the corners off another one. And then I bought her a thick, fleecy dog bed to curl up in. I came home one afternoon to find only the zipper left. The rest of the bed was scattered throughout three different rooms. I’m still finding the stuffing in unusual places, like in the furnace grates.
I can only imagine what would happen if I set up a full-sized live tree and put gifts underneath it. I’m pretty sure I would come home to a pile of shredded wrapping paper and chewed-up branches – and probably a dog that would look as if she’d been hog-tied with strings of lights.
So I’ll stick with my small Christmas tree, safely perched on top of my curio cabinet. But I have to warn everyone I buy gifts for…don’t expect anything this year that won’t fit into a box smaller than the size of a deck of cards.
Otherwise, it won’t fit underneath my tree.
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