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Column: Reflecting on Christmases, and Christmas trees past

Great Outdoors by James Murray

As I sit here at my desk looking across the room at this year’s Christmas tree standing in all its splendour, I am reminded of Christmases and Christmas trees past.

Over the years I have decorated many a Christmas tree, some large, some small, some magnificent, some a little on the sparse side – but all equally beautiful in their own special way.

I’m sure that when American poet Alfred Joyce Kilmer sat down in 1913 to pen the words to his now famous poem Trees (I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.), he had no way of knowing how his words would capture the hearts and imaginations of so many people.

I’m certain he could not possibly have had in mind the Christmas trees we used to haul home when we were kids. I can remember with clarity 60 years ago when, come Saturday morning, the four of us kids would get bundled up and trudge along in the snow, helping my father pull our toboggan to a local tree lot where we would pick out a Christmas tree. I remember as a young child I used to walk along through the aisles of trees, as if venturing into the deep dark woods in search of just the right tree. By process of consensus we would all help in the selection and then, like a poor man’s parade, haul it home. Quite often my father would grab a handful of branches that had broken off other trees and bring them along.

At home, my father would place the tree in the stand and then survey it for any ‘bald spots’ that we may have overlooked in our initial selection process. Once a year my father, a blacksmith by trade, would become a tree surgeon. Out would come his hand drill and wherever it was determined our tree looked a little too sparse, my father would proceed to drill a hole in the trunk. He would then trim one of the extra branches to the right length and jam it into the holes he’d drilled. Before long we would have an absolutely perfectly shaped and balanced Christmas tree. It was amazing how long those added branches lasted, usually until the tree was given the old heave-ho in the new year.

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There was the year that we brought home a tree that had a well constructed and perfectly intact mouse nest in one of its branches near the trunk. My sister, who first discovered the nest, gently removed it and carefully placed it in a shoe box. Between taking turns hanging an ornament on a branch, we would also take turns inspecting the nest and trying to determine if it was inhabited. As I recall, both the nest and the shoebox mysteriously disappeared overnight and were never seen or mentioned again.

There was also the year our tree lost almost half its needles in the first few days and we had to go and get another. That year we had twice the fun decorating.

Then there was the year my father bought one of those artificial Christmas trees at Gerlovin’s Hardware Store and my mother made him take it back.

Even as a kid I always delighted in opening the boxes that held the ornaments. Each ornament so carefully wrapped in paper from the previous year. There were blown glass swans and hummingbirds. Some of the extremely fragile glass bulbs were hand painted by European artisans, others were made of coloured papier mache and decorated with exotic designs from far away lands. I can still see the bubbling electric candles and strings of multi-coloured bulbs that all went out when one single bulb burned out – my father was forever searching to find that bulb.

I still have some of those original ornaments. Over the years I have added many more. More than anything else, I remember there was a lot of fun and laughter involved in decorating out trees, and even a few tears shed over broken ornaments.

I think the tree that stands out perhaps the most was the one we had the Christmas our mother passed away. I remember watching in silence when my little sister took one of my mother’s tin cookie cutters from the kitchen drawer and hung it on a branch of the tree. It was in the shape of a star. That was 50 years ago this year. I mention it because it wasn’t that long ago I noticed it in one of my sister’s kitchen drawers.

Yes, we had a lot of fun putting up the Christmas tree back then.

If I could have one Christmas wish come true, it would be to hear that laughter, that now long ago, childish, innocent, wonderfully precious laughter just one more time.

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