Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. — Norman Vincent Peale
Christmas Trees are Magic
Even before I had heard of the tree in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, I knew Christmas trees had a magical quality—especially in the hands of my father. As a child it seemed to me that Dad could make a scrawny but live Christmas tree “grow” like the tree in The Nutcracker ballet with the use of a drill and a few strategically placed scrap branches.
An undernourished tree would be courageously nailed onto a makeshift stand. With drill in hand, Dad would go to work. Forty-five minutes and a few “ding-dang its” later, a plump balsam pine would stand proudly in our living room, its scent drifting through our small house. This was the signal that the tree was ready to be adorned with well-loved ornaments, strings of colored lights, and the final glittering accessory, what we called “icicles.”
Tinsel strands were placed carefully on the tips of branches, dressing The Tree in a cape of silver. The tinsel sparkled and moved slightly when you walked by. Tinsel of my childhood was regular aluminum-based strands, or the deluxe kind, because it felt heavier, which was lead-based. Little did we know the lead-based jewels were a bit toxic. This increased concern caused it to be fazed out in the ‘60s, and replaced with plastic (PVC-coated or Mylar) tinsel. Okay, it lessened the lead poisoning possibility, but didn’t have quite the heft or gentle sway.
Is There Really a Correct Way to Tinsel the Tree?
Our family ascribed to the “just one, or a few strands at a time” method of tinsel placement. Woe to any impulsive child who gave in to the urge to fling a handful of tinsel up towards the top branches. The result in my memory is a softly lit, green-jeweled visitor residing in our home for the Christmas season, lighting and softening our world.
A Tree-Trimming Tradition
Out on my own after college, I started my own tree-trimming parties. Family and friends decorated my tree as I went through the cut-your-own era. When Hank and I got married, we’d don our Santa hats, drive to the Christmas tree place, point, and “We’ll take that one.” The wonderful Matarazzo’s Farm in North Caldwell New Jersey would deliver.
Ten years ago Hank and I invested in a masterpiece– a ten-foot pre-lit artificial tree. Family and friends who love the spirit of Christmas help us trim the tree. There is always carol-singing, parodies of holiday songs, eating with abandon, and most of all, trimming the tree.
Each Christmas, for two decades we tinseled our tree. (Can tinsel be a verb?) I smile as I remember the variety of tinseling styles—one-strand decorators, drapers, handful flingers. Expert tinselers evolved to teasingly guide the newer and younger tinselers to “try one strand at a time, hung just so.” A dear friend was crowned the Tinsel King. His style and patience in tinseling were unsurpassed. The Annual Tinsel Tony Award for the best tinseler raised tinseling techniques to the level of a fine art.
Alas, the popularity of tinseling has lessened and now we no longer use tinsel on the tree. Less tinsel means more lights and a glut of ornaments. The Tinseled Tree has been replaced by the someday-soon-to-be-famous Tinsel Singers, a growing number of singers in sparkly wigs, who lead the holiday songs.
What’s on the Tree?
Our collection of ornaments is a parade of memories. Over twenty-eight years of teaching, I was gifted with ornaments like a miniature chalkboard, a clay penguin, wooden sleds and school buses, and tiny books covered with holly. Family ornaments of Santas, and choirboys made of clothespins during my brother-in-law’s craft era adorn the tree. Beaded balls, miniature roller skates, and handmade decorated ornaments glisten near tiny, now LED lights. My sister’s quilted tree skirt surrounds the tree.
Years of travel are chronicled on our tree. Our First Christmas photo ornament, a holly-topped Eiffel Tower, a London phone booth, Park City reindeer, delicate brass ornaments from Rome, Mexico, Hungary, Prague, Paris, Williamsburg, Oregon, Port Jefferson, and New York City. The year we moved to Tucson brought horse and saddle ornaments and seven little cowboy boots.
The trimming of the tree is three hours by the clock, but I think everyone is touched by the magic of Christmas for the entire season. What is the magic of Christmas for you?
May your days be merry and bright. – Irving Berlin, White Christmas
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic.