Our house is moving into high gear to get ready for Christmas celebrations. Because of our vacation in early December everything is behind schedule. By some miracle we have sent the cards and letters, planned the menus, and begun the shopping. We have simplified much of the hoopla of Christmas.
The tree trimming ritual is an annual tradition at our house that is important despite some of the hassles involved. It is a tradition that we won’t drop in favour of simplification.
Real or Artificial
Long before we begin trimming the tree we have discussion about whether to buy an artificial tree.
I confess that I introduce this topic every year as I am the proponent of buying an artificial tree. What could be better than a tree that is perfectly shaped and comes with lights already on the branches? There would be no needles shed on the carpets, in the entry hall or on the front steps — and no daily vacuuming. It would be easy to put up and take down. I make comments about how useless it seems to have a dead tree in the house.
My husband is steadfast in believing that a real Christmas celebration needs a real tree. He grew up in the tropics where no Northern conifers were available when he was young. Authenticity, Canadian tradition, and his personal preference support his position. Our adult son who no longer lives at home wants no part of a plastic tree and makes this known. My husband vows to do any clean-up and to look after the daily watering. The vote always goes 2 to 1 and family democracy kills my plea for artificial boughs complete with lights.
Finding and Purchasing the Right Tree
Finding and purchasing the tree is usually a family expedition although there have been years when only one of us has procured the tree due to time constraints or scheduling conflicts. We have fantasies about going to one of the nearby Christmas tree farms to select and cut the right specimen but we usually give in to the frigid temperatures and head out to a nursery or a big box store. This year there is no snow in the greater Toronto area so going to a tree farm would involve trekking through muddy fields to chop a tree.
Whether we go high-end and pay upwards of $70 or go to a big box retailer and get something priced in the mid-range, we always end up with a tree that has a problem area. It might be a crooked stem, missing branches, a lop-sided shape, overly long branches, or a trunk too large for the tree stand. Over the years, we have encountered all of these problems.
It was a good omen when we found a lovely Fraser Fir at a good price at the first tree lot that we visited. We bought it and had the attendant make a fresh cut so that it would easily absorb water.
The Mystery of a Proper Tree Stand
Even the sturdiest Christmas tree stands seem to pose problems. I don’t know why the technology of making a proper stand for a tree has not evolved as quickly as other technology. We regularly buy new stands with the hope for one that is stable. But there are always glitches: wobbly construction; leaking water tanks; inadequate capacity in the tank; screws that are too short to properly secure the trunk.
Last year we bought a new stand at the after-Christmas sales. When we tried to use the new stand, we found that the stand was not level which necessitated temporarily immersing the freshly cut tree trunk in a pail of water.
To avoid making another fresh-cut and to avoid the tree trunk freezing along with the water in the pail, we had to place the tree in a corner of the front hallway for a couple of days until we bought yet another tree stand. It was not a great start.
By a stroke of luck my husband and I got the engineering related to positioning of the tree in the new stand sorted out just before the annual tree trimming last night. This involved wrapping the base of the tree in old bath towels and moving the tree to the living room where we got it screwed into the stand. We accomplished the move without a spill on the carpets before my son and his finance arrived to help with the actual decorating.
Lights in a tangle
Dealing with the tangle of lights usually comes as the one of the tree trimming challenges. The strings of multi-colored lights, the dancing santa and the flashing candy canes have fallen from favour in our family. Too bad — because we had so much fun with these flashing lights and the dancing Santa. We do, however, have a good time testing these older flashing lights and watching Santa shake his body before settling on the strings of small clear lights that aren’t quite so tacky.
Someone straightens the strings and makes sure that the bulbs are working. Because both my son and his fiance are tall, they get to arrange the lights while my husband and I take a break for refreshments to keep everyone’s spirits in good form.
The Dilemma of Decorations
Forty-five years of marriage means that we’ve had about thirty-five Christmas trees (given that sometimes we celebrated Christmas by taking a vacation or by visiting extended family). Having decorated so many trees means an accumulation of far too many ornaments, tree toppers, tree skirts, and other do-dads.
For some years I opted for the coordinated look of one or two colours for all the tree decorations or I opted for themes — angels, bells, animals, Santas, etc. Unfortunately we have kept all of these coordinated or themed decorations which leaves us with the dilemma of which ones to use.
In recent years we have opted for an eclectic assortment of decorations rather than the decorator themes. Some of the favourites are always chosen — those ornaments that our son made in Sunday school or at Montessori school; the hand-made ceramic replicas of wise men and angels from my crafty days; a few special antique glass ornaments from my mother’s home, and some hand-made snowflakes and angels that my sister sent to me years ago.
The Best Part of Tree Trimming
As the various decorations are sorted and the choices made, the stories begin. Remember when we got the funky Santa slippers? Remember when I made this wreath of pine cones? Remember when the cat climbed the tree and nearly knocked it down? Remember the ‘grandma’ ornaments? Remember the tiny tree that we bought for $5 when we were grad students? Remember when we got our special stockings?
It is at this point in the evening when my husband retrieves some of his collection of vinyl records of favourite Christmas music. These recordings by Mahalia Jackson, the Ray Conniff singers, Bing Crosby, and Mario Lanza are treasures that get played only once a year — on the tree trimming evening. Hearing these voices played again and singing along with the traditional carols is part of the ritual.
The best part of the tree trimming ritual is indulging in the enjoyable and sometimes sad stories of past Christmases. Family reminiscences are shared and memories are ignited. We speak of the traditions we inherited from our parents who are now deceased. We remember those Christmases when our son believed in Santa and joke about the treats Santa preferred. Stored with the decorations are letters and Christmas cards written many years ago by our parents when distances kept us apart. We get a good dose of nostalgia when re-reading those letters and cards.
When we finish the decorating, we turn off the living room lamps to admire the lights on the tree and the sparkle of the decorations. The arguments about a live vs an artificial tree seem trivial as we remark that this is the best tree ever. There are hugs and good wishes of the season. Peacefulness fills the room. The tree is trimmed — or, according to my husband’s colonial tradition, the tree is ‘dressed’ — and another Christmas ritual is complete.