A couple of weeks ago I asked my newsletter subscribers about their Christmas traditions. (I had shared mine of paper snowflakes, real tree, mistletoe, Christmas cards, baking, etc.) Imagine my delight when Pat Nolan shared this treat. It reminded me of a vintage Christmas film, embodying everything we treasure during the holidays: magic and wonder, and, most importantly, our connection to family.
My confession: I, too, LOVE tinsel! And I’m a stickler for a “perfect tree.”
No More Tinsel
When I was growing up as an only child during the 1940s and 1950s, Christmas was a quiet time of year. Our special events consisted of my Mom and I taking the “L” down to the Loop in Chicago to see the magnificent store window displays. It was one thrilling diorama after another. Another trip downtown took us to see the annual holiday performance of “The Nutcracker.” These festive events always involved dressing up – ‘white gloves and party manners.’
About a week before Christmas, my Dad and I pulled my sled to the normally vacant corner lot where Christmas trees appeared for sale. As an artist, my Dad was very particular about the size and shape of a tree. It had to be nearly perfect and of course, fresh. He pulled several branches to make sure no needles fell off. We carried the chosen tree home on my sled. Seems there was always snow for Christmas in those days.
My Dad’s job was to secure the tree in the stand and string the lights. Then my Mom and I were allowed to hang the ornaments, those small glass, wood, and metal memories from years past. No plastic Disney characters then. When all the ornaments were hung with care, it was time to hang silver tinsel. I hated tinsel. It was ugly, full of static that made it cling to my hair, and my Dad required it to be hung one string at a time with only the short end laid over the tip of each and every branch. One year, I became so frustrated with the whole thing, I threw a handful at the tree and stomped out of the room. I won’t tell you what happened to me. You can only imagine my father’s anger. I ruined the tree that year!
Many years later after I was married with my own children, each winter our family drove to northern Wisconsin, where my parents had retired. They lived in the north woods on a lake. There was a channel that stayed mostly open water all winter. Swans congregated right outside the living room window. They owned five acres filled with birch trees, poplars, maples, white pine, white spruce, and balsam fir. It was our very own piece of earth from which to choose a Christmas tree every year. My Dad, my children and I would bundle up for a long outdoor trek around in circles, until we found “the perfect tree.” Amid shouts from each child, “here’s one, what about this one?” we probably considered fifty trees during the morning. Finally, my Dad said, “OK, here are three possible trees. Pick one. Now.” We chose and Dad sawed it down. Little did we know until years later, that Dad had already picked the three final best choices from which we were to choose. He could not risk one of us insisting on a “Charlie Brown tree.” Dad and my husband did the heavy lifting and secured the tree in its stand. Mom had finished baking the last batch of cookies and made hot cocoa for us to enjoy while we sat down, warmed up, and began stringing cranberries and popcorn. Trimming was much more joyful those years since my Dad had given up on tinsel. NO MORE TINSEL.
Patricia K. Nolan