This antique photo of a Christmas tree surrounded by little boys who seem less than thrilled suits me because Christmas trees have never been my favorite things. Primarily because it was our family custom for my father to get the itch to go Christmas tree shopping on the coldest, nastiest day of the year — and my mother, ever-interested in presenting a united parental front, agreed.
So there, in the frozen Christmas tree lot, wind freeze-drying our eyeballs, or feet and hands so cold we nearly prayed they’d get frostbite so they’d actually go numb, my sister and I stood, agreeing with any tree selected to hurry this thing up.
Only it never did.
My parents took their time looking over every tree in the lot. They called it “being selective.” But my sister and I begged to differ (and to go home) as our family’s other Christmas tree tradition was to bring home a tree with severe scoliosis — and a bad side dad would have to hide in the living room corner.
Once our tree was selected it was time to get it home, into the house, and set up. Parental bickering was involved, of course, as mom questioned dad’s desire to break all her holiday knick knacks and he in return wondered why she didn’t understand his simple directions of how to hold the tree while he sawed off branches and fit the trunk into the tree stand.
Then real fun was supposed to begin. But let me tell you, dripping noses and frozen fingers prohibit you from enjoying decorating the tree.
It’s no wonder I wished Christmas trees arrived by Santa’s sleigh too.
When I hit my 20’s, I actually had a beautiful tree selecting experience. My then-boyfriend took me out on the family property — complete with horse in tow — to cut down our own very own little Christmas tree for our apartment.
I giggled with joy over such a charming and comparatively discomfort-free holiday tree selection. On the way back to the car, holding hands with my boyfriend who led the horse, tree trailing behind him, a gentle snow fell to complete the Normal Rockwell imagery and my insides warmed with the romance of it all.
Too bad that relationship ended with more pain and tears than the cumulative hours spent Christmas tree shopping with my folks did.
Since then, I’ve had children. And a divorce. Then a new marriage — with a new daughter. All situations which affect Christmas trees and my affection for them.
Marriages bring debates over conflicting traditions, such as Real Trees Vs. Artificial Ones, just where the tree should be placed, when and how to trim the tree — including whether or not tinsel can be used.
Children bring ornaments. By the truckload. Each child has multiple Baby’s First Year ornaments, packed in layers of tissues with of all the ornaments they’ve made through the years.
My husband, ever the packrat, has all his old childhood ornaments, set aside and saved for him all these years by his loving mother.
Which means every year my Christmas tree looks more like the cliched family art gallery refrigerator than the holiday tree of my dreams.
Among the complications of a blended family like ours at holiday time, are the sheer number of ornaments. Since we both were single parents for a number of years, we each had more than enough ornaments for one tree — and now they’re combined. The only preferential treatment my fancy themed ornaments get is to remain safely tucked into their boxes, saved for that future One Day.
You know, that one day when my children are older and I give them the boxes of their ornaments I livingly saved for them… Then I can have a fancy designer styled tree.
Only thing is, I’ll probably miss my cluttered Christmas tree, that literal mess of memories, and the stories each ornament had.
No, Christmas trees have never been my favorite things; but they do contain memories and they are decorated in stories.
Vintage Christmas photos via The Antique Christmas Lights Museum.