Editorial: The evolution of the Christmas tree

Published 10:53 am Thursday, December 9, 2021

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Think back about the first Christmas tree you can remember. What made it special? Where did it come from? How long did it last? For those of us with an advanced age, that is harder than you young people think. I have the memories, but have no idea how old or what year it was.
My earliest memory is that of a cedar tree. Cedar trees were all we used during my younger years. We would head for the woods (Along fence rows seemed to be a good spot for an appropriate cedar.) and use a hand saw to cut down the tree.
Cedar trees have their pluses and minuses.
On the plus side, it smells good. Really good. The color is the right shade of green. It holds strands of stringed popcorn and shiny silver icicles well. And it repels moths and other unwanted insects and rodents.
On the minus side, cedar trees are prickly. Really prickly. Expect some tiny cuts on fingers and hands while trying to adorn it with ornaments. Got a young one helping? Expect a tear or two. Putting lights around the tree is even more risky. And like most live trees, or at least ones that were alive in the not too distant past, cedar trees dry out really quickly. If you put it up too early, parts of the green will start to turn brown, as well.
It seems that cedar trees are great if you don’t have too many decorations and you don’t want it to be in your house for very long.
But when you’re young and excited about everything Christmas, just the thought of going into the woods with family to get a tree is worth remembering. So is watching it being cut to fit into a stand. So is watching and helping – or more likely – getting in the way while decorations are added. And who knew there is an art to making tree garland out of popcorn?
The next tree I remember was a classic. It was an artificial tree, probably purchased with Green Stamps. It was entirely silver, stems, leaves, trunk and all. But what made this tree special was the light wheel that came with it. There was a light to shine onto the tree. It came with a slowly rotating disc of rainbow colors designed to make the tree change colors as the light wheel rotated.
It worked pretty well, and was well received amongst us youngsters, but putting ornaments on a tree like this wasn’t the best idea. Most just went with balls, usually all the same color. Paper, homemade ornaments just didn’t look right on this tree.
As time went on, we ended up buying freshly cut trees. Those Frasier fir trees work the best, and look the best. Hands down.
As even more time went on, stores began selling artificial trees. How could anyone purchase a non-live tree for Christmas? It just isn’t right.
And then these trees started to be sold with lights already attached. If you’ve ever tried to string lights around a prickly tree – especially if you’ve got someone in the back telling you you’re doing it wrong, which is almost always the case – a pre-lit artificial tree started to sound better and better.
These pre-lit artificial trees come in all shapes and sizes, all types of quality and prices. The best part: it is ready to go when the next Christmas rolls around. The worst part: you don’t get the satisfaction of picking out the right tree and making it shine like only you can do when that next Christmas rolls around.
In our house nowadays, we have the artificial, pre-lit tree. One reason is that the house is small, with small rooms. The tree has to be skinny or some drunken idiot might walk by, bump into the tree and knock off an ornament made by a long, lost relative, breaking it into smithereens to never be used again, ruining the whole Christmas experience for at least one family member.
So, as you admire your tree this year, think about the trees of your past.
– Mike Barnhardt