Telling ornament stories.
This year I’m going to have to glory in the Christmas trees of years past as I don’t think I’ll be able to do much more than get the “little tree” up.
The “little tree” is thus monikered because it is small in comparison to the “big tree” and because it is a consolidation of numerous tabletop trees I had scattered about the house.
At one time my goal was to have a Christmas tree in every room. I did a pretty good job of that, but then discovered that I spent so little time in many of the rooms I was missing out on some wonderful ornaments.
I have loved Christmas trees for as long as I can remember. Putting up the tree was one of my favorite aspects of the holiday – I looked forward to that with almost the same intensity as I did Christmas morning.
The Big Tree. There's been an explosion of urban growth since this picture was taken. The village is out of control. All of it's out of control.
When we lived in Hawaii, there was a neighborhood kid who in retrospect was probably grossly neglected by his parents, but who, nevertheless, was a character. And he adored my father – another character. Matt would knock on the door and ask if “the big fat dum dum could come out to play.” My father was not fat. He referred to my mother as “Her Highness.” My mother was not royalty. To my knowledge, he didn’t call me anything.
He was little. Like 4-years-old little. And he often had his younger brother in tow.
One year he showed up at Christmas time and wanted to see our tree. Her Highness explained to him that the tree wasn’t decorated yet. That was alright with him. He sat on our living room floor and gazed at it for the longest time before leaving for the next house and the next tree.
There’s a lot of Matt in me.
I love Christmas trees.
I bought my first ornament to celebrate my first apartment – a spun glass angel. It was cheap, I was poor. I didn’t even manage a tree that year, but I had my first ornament. I also had begun the tradition of ornaments that had significance.
I was brand new pregnant the year I put up my first Christmas tree. I conceived on Thanksgiving Day and December found me shopping for ornaments to decorate the humongous tree I had bought. It was a “real tree” – I was contemptuous of my mother’s capitulation to artificial trees.
A sparse room, a sparse tree.
The tree was huge and we were poor. We had just bought the house and didn’t even have furniture for most of the rooms. Just buying lights taxed the budget, but I pressed on and bought some Victorian-ish ornaments and “popcorn” garland that the ex insisted on. He’d had no interest in the Christmas tree and, indeed, found the whole undertaking ridiculous. But he was insistent on that damned, plastic popcorn. We bought every string they had and it wasn’t enough, but careful arrangement made it look like enough as long as you didn’t look behind the tree.
While out shopping on a brutally cold Saturday, I found the ornament of my dreams – a white iron Victorian baby carriage about 5” long. It was the last one – Gimbel’s didn’t even have the box for it. It was expensive and we were broke, but I was pregnant with the child we weren’t supposed to be able to have. I bought it.
And promptly left it somewhere in Milwaukee’s largest shopping mall.
I was pregnant and hormonal. I sobbed as though my heart was breaking – it was.
Giving up on finding it, I returned home still a hormonal mess. The ex who didn’t get the whole Christmas tree thing certainly didn’t get the tragedy of a lost ornament.
Later that evening, the phone rang. A woman had found my package, tracked me down with the credit card slip in the bag, and called. She understood. She said she took one look in that bag and new the ornament was important. I jumped in my car, drove across town in the brutal cold and retrieved my ornament.
Can you see the baby rattle?
While putting it on the tree, I remembered the baby rattle.
After telling the ex that yes, indeedy, I was pregnant, he rushed out of the house. I had told him Thanksgiving Day that I had just conceived, but he didn’t believe me. He rushed out and returned a few hours later with a pink baby rattle. He said, “I wanted to be the first person to buy something for the baby.” I questioned the pink of the rattle and asked if he wanted a girl. He said, “Oh? Is it pink? There was just so much baby stuff and finally I just grabbed something.”
I hung the baby rattle on our first tree next to the baby carriage. The tree wasn’t much – lots of gold lights, a few glass bulbs, some glittered, plastic snowflakes and the pink rattle and baby carriage in the place of honor.
I look forward to those two ornaments every year.
It was also that Christmas in 1984 where it dawned on me that Christmas ornaments need not have been intended as Christmas ornaments. All sorts of stuff ends up my tree – if it signifies something important in my life and I can get it to hang on the tree, up it goes.
Witches and popcorn
Through the years, I’ve added so many ornaments that the whole project has become daunting. I’d exhausted space on the tree and that’s when the little tabletop trees began. These were significant in their own right, but also just plain fun. Chef Boy ‘R Mine and I were wild about the Wizard of Oz, so we had a tree. (There are an astonishing number of Wizard of Oz ornaments available.) He and I were also quite enamored of Alice in
Wonderland, so there’s that tree. We also were fond of the Nutcracker Ballet, so there was that one. There was the “all-natural” tree decorated with dried flowers and grapevine. A tiny advent tree.
I still love the Nutcracker Ballet.
Child-of-Mine loved Christmas trees too. The year he was 18 months old, I gave him a small table top tree with battery-operated lights and hung his small stuffed animals on it. I also purchased some fabric ornaments for the tree. He dragged that tree around and decorated and re-decorated it for weeks. His tree, too, got larger and more ornate as the years went buy. Featured strongly were his Star Trek ornaments. When he got to be a manly man of about 12, he lost interest in his tree.
Not too many years ago, I realized that the big, family tree was stuffed to the gills with ornaments and was missing the whimsy that I delight in. But I loved it. So one thing led to another and I purchased a pitiful 6’ pre-lit tree and consolidated all the little trees onto it. It’s a hoot and a holler. It lives in the family room and is stuffed to the gills with Alice, Dorothy, Spock, Ninja Turtles, Godfather Drosselmeir, Popeye, and all manner of things to make a child’s eyes sparkle. And that stupid plastic popcorn that I had so hated is now a beloved component.
Matt would have loved it.
It wasn't exactly a planned-development village.
As the trees grew and morphed and got completely out of control, the Christmas Village trend began with small ceramic lighted houses. I was wild about them. The first year, I had four, I think.
My “little houses” have experienced a bad case of urban sprawl – I think we’re at about 30 buildings now. I have no overriding theme – the igloo sits next to the Ice Palace and bait shop sits next to the Cathedral. I have very expensive “collector’s items” and cheap, badly-painted Dollar General versions. It’s all good. I’m of the opinion that the proper place for the village is under the tree – my silent night sky is faux pine branches and the starry glow of tree lights.
Years ago, I decreed the big tree too full for even one more house or one more ornament, yet every year more ornaments and more houses were added. I’d reached critical mass long before the artificial tree (yes, I capitulated too) officially died. In 2006, I bought the artificial tree of my dreams. It’s a monster. It’s such a monster that just assembling the tree sans ornaments is a major production. Assembly and decorating plus erection of the little houses will take 4 full days of work.
His tree in my house before he took it home to be a year-round addition.
One of HMOKeefe’s wonderful qualities is that he enjoys Christmas trees and décor nearly as much as I do. He was supposed to have come here for Christmas and I would have put up both trees to delight him, but Thanksgiving week rendered a stroke and so I am going to his house.
The big tree is not going up this year. I have neither the time to put it up nor the time to take it down. The little tree can be assembled in about a day. It’s going up, maybe today – maybe this weekend.
When I get to Boston, I know that the palm tree-ish Christmas tree I gave him one year will be up – it’s always up. HMOKeefe has an island fetish and I knew he had to have that ridiculous tree. It’s a long story, but two Moose named Mort and Milly are the primary decorations.
One of these years soon, I will have the time and the energy to return to my habit of decorating this house from top to bottom for Christmas. This year isn’t it. But I love Christmas trees and this year I’m glorying in the memory of Christmas trees past.