Decorating the tree was a big deal when I was growing up. When we were tall enough, we children did most of the placing of ornaments with the help of our mother. She also was chief in charge of gluing things together that had broken and of telling the story behind some of the decorations. For instance, the blue glass beads had been her grandmother’s.
She was also creative with finding decorations in the woods. We had tiny clusters of alder cones painted gold or silver and walnut shells, emptied of the nuts and glued back together, painted silver. I still have a couple of redwood cones, one painted gold and one silver, that came from the giant redwoods of the Sierras, Sequoiadendron giganteum. These would have been gathered when we lived at Calaveras Big Trees State Park. Each of the four of us chose one of the glass birds as “ours”. Today I don’t remember which was mine but I do remember the red one was my brother Peter’s and gave it to him a few years ago for his tree. Our father put the star at the top.
But before the decorating there was the finding and cutting. I was usually not a part of those excursions but my older brothers were. The few times that I did go I remember we hiked until we reached an elevation that supported the growth of white fir. After the tree was decorated we’d gather around and, accompanied by our father on his accordion, we’d all sing Christmas carols.
When I had a family of my own we used some of the old decorations but mostly ones I had accumulated and then those that our children had made in school. I remember one winter when I had been sick and my mother-in-law came to put the decorations away, throwing out all those that had been cut from some kind of play-dough/salt mixture and brought home from school. She thought they were cooky dough and would spoil. Cranberries were good for stringing and using for just one year. Usually the trees came from hiking in an area where there were white firs. Douglas fir branches were too droopy and the trees not bushy enough. On one memorable trip a good friend and I hiked through the woods in a tree-permit area in Trinity County near the Granite Peak trailhead. After cutting our respective trees we dragged them across the snow with ropes, stumbling and falling and laughing so hard that tears were rolling down our cheeks.
When I first moved to Eugene my new husband brought home a tree from a corner parking lot that made me weep. I was already homesick and to me a Christmas tree had to be a particular size and shape–big and bushy! He was very sweet about it and took the tree back to be exchanged. Now we usually go to a Christmas tree farm a few miles up the road and wander about till we find one to our liking although the last two years he has gone when I haven’t been home and chosen perfect ones.
I inherited the family decorations and take great pleasure in putting them on our tree every year: my great-grandmother’s blue beads, the fragile glass birds, the sequoia cones, swedish decorations that I purchased when my children were young, my grandmother’s alligator with springs for legs. Most bring fond memories from the past. And when my grandchildren come by I try to tell them about some of the history. If I want any of the stories to continue I’ll probably have to write it down for them to read about when they are adults.
When it’s time for the tree to be removed each memory is carefully wrapped and packed away for another year.