I've had so many different Christmas trees in my life, from boyhood to adult, but I can remember each and every one of them as well as the ones of friends and family members.
As a small child, our tradition was not to have the Christmas tree decorated until after the kids went to bed on Christmas Eve. My parents would stay up half the night decorating, wrapping presents and assembling toys. My brother and I would awake to see this live Christmas tree that hadn't even been there the night before! That Santa had brought and decorated!
A few years later, we would go and cut down our own tree but leave it undecorated so that Santa had something to do on Christmas Eve. Again, we'd awake and the tree was decorated. With the same lights (big colored C9 lights) and ornaments as the year before.
One year I remember most is when I woke up one morning before Christmas and the undecorated tree was knocked down on the living room floor. I then found out that my father had left - this time for good. But on Christmas morning the tree still made its appearance with its gown of lights and ornaments.
From that point on, we had artifical trees. It was easier on Mom, of course, but it also gave us a ritual to perform each year as a family. In the 1970s, artificial trees were not that realistic - even if you did spray them with that pine tree scent in a can. I remember colored mini-lights (no blinkers!) and those red satin ball ornaments that the cat would turn into string sculptures.
My great-grandparents had a tiny, Charlie Brown type artificial tree but I was always so fascinated by the mercury glass ornaments and clip-on birds. And our neighbors across the street always cut down a fresh tree in the woods behind their house.
Out on my own in California, I returned to decorating live Christmas trees, and huge ones at that. I always bought a Noble Fir which is now difficult for me to find here in Chicago. Noble firs have sturdy needles that barely fall off, and plenty of space between branches to display big and beautiful ornaments. You wouldn't know it by looking at the dour "me" posed next to it but the tree had 1,000 lights and handmade decorations. Caption: "Holiday Joy" by Grant Wood.
Over the past few years, I've put up the "gold tree" due to moving from California to Chicago. I saw this in one of those seasonal Christmas shops they have in the mall - they open way too early in September and are gone by January 1. The tree was in the window with lots of ornaments. I asked the owner if she would sell it to me and she said yes. She wanted me to wait until after Christmas but I made her take down every ornament and pack it up for me right then and there. It is plastic and assembles in about 5 minutes. This year it is serving duty in the entry way, greeting holiday guests.
But this year, its back to large and live: a 9 foot tree, 1500 lights, over 500 handmade ornaments. I will post photos on my other blog, A Catskill Christmas once it is assembled. In the meantime you can go there and take a look at the ornaments I've been making.
For all its mess and hassle, I much prefer live Christmas trees. It brings nature into my home and so many memories to my heart.
Photo: me with one of my live Christmas trees, California, 1996