The Christmas Tree

Written by Jim Lloyd

OK boys and girls of all ages… let’s talk Christmas trees for a minute, shall we?

Christmas trees date back a couple hundred years or so. Some say Germany started them, some say Great Britain. Be that as it may, it was when the only way to light them was with candles. What? Hanging little open flames in a cut evergreen tree, talk about an expression of faith.

But thanks to Thomas Edison, a hundred or so years ago, we could begin using small incandescent lights. And wow, did Christmas become fun. Depending upon one’s background (how Mom and Dad did it) and how one perceives the Season, today we have everything from staid displays of just a few tiny white lights to trees that are fireworks for the eyes.

This is the fortieth Christmas my Bride and I have celebrated together, and so I would like to pass along a few pointers to those who may have some questions about the basics. Probably first and foremost…real or artificial? That’s tough. Again, it goes to family tradition initially.

Real or artificial?

I remember back in the fifties the shock and dismay widespread in my family when Sears offered aluminum bowered artificial trees (either in aluminum or white colored needles) with artificial white flocking said to resemble snow. Ghastly!

My father went on for nearly an hour at the dinner table about the falsification of everything Christian that artificial trees represented just before we went to visit my mother’s parents and see their tree. There in the corner stood a new Sears shiny aluminum tree that rotated! (Ten bucks extra for the rotation they boasted!) Things were never quite the same in our family, but over the decades since, non-living trees have captured their share of the market due merely to convenience. First of all they look real. You put them up in a flash. They repack in their box in a flash and a half. No watering, no needles still in the odd corner in March, no guessing how to buy live. Which brings us to the main subject for today.

Live Tree Pointers

If you want a live tree (and you’re right about that) here’s a couple of easy pointers. Avoid those tents that set up in October. These are mostly put together by speculators looking for a quick buck (my uncle up in North Carolina made ten grand last year!) The trees are cut too early at farms that raise them too quickly on Christmas tree steroids. They turn brown in a week or two and make your wall paper peal off. And then there are the lots that try too hard for an air of legitimacy. “Santa’s Trees” or “Christmas Tree World” which offer door wreaths and hand made evergreen ornaments should be avoided.

I’ve had outstanding success at Lowes or Home Depot. They buy millions of trees from farms that know what they’re doing and are in business for the long run. The trees are harvested at the right age and time, they are wrapped and shipped on a schedule, and you can go on a Tuesday morning (no crowds) and get down to serious business one-on-one with a tree selling professional. I define one of those as someone who will let you wander around and buy the tree you want.

Now you’re in the tent and there are rows of trees. What next? Well, before you left home, you eyed the space where the tree will stand. How wide will it be? And how tall? Most ceilings are around 7 to 8 feet tall. All the tree places have a grouping at 6 to 7 feet. Stick a star up there and that’s all you can fit. Don’t buy an 8 or 9 footer. Don’t buy a 5 footer. And getting back to the width, these trees are trimmed as they grow to be proportional, so in most cases, just worry about the height.

So now you’ve got a bunch of 6 and 7 footers spiral wrapped at the farm. Just grab a good looking one (no obvious flaws) and spin it. Is the trunk straight? Does it wobble in the spin? Crooked trunk? Next, feel it (hug it). Any thin spots? You’re looking for uniformity. If it doesn’t taper uniformally from bottom to top, you’ll have gaps or holes which will need to be filled with extra ornaments and garland. A clever trick I just heard about from one of my daughter’s friends is to use a few nylon tie wraps (inside) to encourage the branches to be evenly spaced.

Now comes the tree stand. Two holding screws on 4 sides. Have someone hold it up straight while you tighten. Believe me (and you know this) if it’s 3 degrees off, you’ll hear about it from your aunt. Water. Sprinkle a little sugar (eighth to quarter cup) in the first dose, and water AS NEEDED for the first few days. Eventually, the tree will realize it may look pretty, but it just ain’t feelin’ too good and will require less and less water.

“Staid and Nice” vs “Fireworks for the eyes”

We have the basic choice of Fraser or Douglas Fir. Fraser is the short needle. This matters in the next step. Lighting. Fraser firs, being thin and spacey-branched, adapt themselves to the staid concept of just white lights (representing the stars on Christmas Night), no flashing, no color. Nice. But then there are those of us born on the other side of the tracks who want fireworks for the eyes.

Get yourself 3 or 4 strands of 300 bulb multi-color lights and start at the bottom. Reach in to the center and loop the lights as close to the trunk as you can. (Douglas Firs are much kinder to your arms than those prickly short needled Frasers.} Work your way up so that by the time you’ve used all the strings, you’re almost out to the edge of the branches. Now come the flashers.

String a few strands of flashing lights with programmable sequences and top it all off with a star that is nothing short of disco. Baby. That’s a Christmas Tree.

We often sit with a night cap in hand and just watch and remember when our four were young. It is far better entertainment than TV.