My most favorite part of celebrating Christmas is the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree.
I grew up in the city of Glendale, Arizona. Live Christmas trees came down the mountainside on trucks from Northern Arizona and sold in Christmas tree lots in front of supermarkets, hardware stores, and on corners. We always had a real Christmas tree until the Christmas we didn’t.
My father was in charge of getting the Christmas tree every year. When I was ten, he did not get our tree in time. A week before Christmas, he was frantically going from lot to lot to find a tree. There were none available. He came home with an artificial tree. It was the store tree that stood as a stage in the Christmas department. I think he begged for the tree because he knew if he didn’t come home with a tree he would be a failure for the evening. He convinced the manager to sell him the tree. He did.
My parents took the tree out of the unmarked cardboard box and inserted the limbs into the tree trunk. I cried because I wanted a real tree. The tree was crooked. My mother and I hung some red and green ball ornaments and my father strung a few strings of colored Christmas lights on the tree. We added the angel to the top, and the tree leaned to the left side. My parents had to put a prop on the leaning side so that it wouldn’t topple over. It didn’t look anything like the bright Christmas tree pictures displayed on our Christmas cards. My parents continued to use that same tree for many years to come. At eighteen, I left home, promising myself I would never display a fake tree in my future homes.
I married and went to live in Japan, and for my first Christmas, I was determined to find a real Christmas tree. Japanese don’t celebrate Christmas, so this was no easy feat.
We decided that a nursery would be the only place to get what might look like an evergreen tree. We found one in a town forty minutes away. The tree was 1 foot tall and in a pot. It looked like the tree in Charlie Brown’s Christmas movie. We brought it home, put a small string of white lights, and put an angel at the top.
For five years, we took the tree out into our front “yard” and watered it, and brought it in every Christmas. The tree grew and became taller than the ceiling in our Japanese house. We left it outside and decorated it for the neighbors to see. Five years later, we gave it to a friend because we were returning to the States.
Seven fun facts about the Christmas Tree:
1. German immigrants were the first to introduce Christmas trees to the US
German immigrants decorated their trees with ornaments imported from Germany and popcorn, berries, nuts, tinsel, lights, and candles. Once Edison came up with light bulbs, people began to use them on their trees. They were safer than candles.
2. Puritans living in the Massachusetts Bay Area outlawed Christmas
They believed Christmas was a pagan holiday. The Puritans soon became outnumbered and Christmas became popular in the 1820s.
3. The Pennsylvania Dutch were the first to display community trees as early as 1747.
The townspeople decided to display a tree in their town square for all people to enjoy. Not everyone could afford a tree to put in their house. Travel anywhere in the US and you are likely to find a “village” tree.
4. The first artificial tree was made with toilet bowl brushes and sprayed painted green.
(Look closely at your artificial tree, and you can see the form of toilet brushes.) Manufacturers replaced the tree limbs with aluminum and plastic materials.
Today, people use artificial trees more often than real trees. We need to save the forests, and they are easier to store for the next year.
5. European trees were about four feet in height.
People living in the US wanted trees to reach from floor to ceiling.
6. Christmas Tree farms plant more than 1,000,000 acres of Christmas trees.
7. The evergreen represents everlasting life.
People who live in cold countries brought the trees into their homes to remind them of life outside. They called these trees Paradise trees.
8. Before December 24 became Christmas Eve, people celebrated it as Adam and Eve’s Day.
They decorated the trees with apples and pears. People danced around the tree and sang festive songs. The townspeople burned the tree at the end of the ceremony.
I haven’t had a Christmas tree for almost six years. My house is smaller, I am alone, Christmas trees are about $80, and they dry out here in Arizona, where I have come back to live. I bought a tree this year. It is 12 inches tall and has a small string of red and green colored lights that twinkle. It sits in my front window and looks out at those who walk down the street.
The memories I have of going to a tree farm in Michigan the day after Thanksgiving and watching my daughter and husband choose a tree, cut it down, and put it on top of the car are gone. The hours that I spent threading popcorn and cranberries on the tree are gone. I only wish I could bring them back.
The Christmas tree will always be my favorite memory.