Friday, December 30, 2011

Folklife Fridays: Bare Christmas Trees

On January 30, my Christmas 'tree' is lovely, still bearing its ornaments and lights, still radiating with fiber optics. It hasn't shed one needle. It probably never will, because the people who made it used fine machines and glue and paint to construct it, giving it the general shape of a tree. The closest it ever came to a tree was when it was in a box in the back of the truck, coming home from Sam's, when we were driving through Forest Hills.

It does not make my house smell like Christmas. It used to be different.

As soon as our school dismissed for Christmas break, my lil' ole sister and I went to the woods in search of a Christmas tree. We ambled in woods not our own because we wanted to find something we hadn't seen before. A few times, it is possible we wandered onto government land, but it has been over forty years and we don't fear prosecution at this point.

Cedars were the best; they had much thicker foliage than the scraggly loblolly pines that were common there. The cedar trees usually had a few dead branches around the bottom, but that was easy enough to fix, and they smelled heavenly. So we would saw down a cedar, usually no more than three or four inches in diameter at the trunk, and drag it home. We did this despite the dire predictions of my Grandma who believed that if you cut a young cedar, there would be a death in the family before next Christmas.

In the old farmhouse, a wood heater was our only source of heat. It was located in the large living room, the same room where we would put the Christmas tree. We would put the tree in a large bucket with gravel to make it steady, but sometimes, it still wouldn't stand up, so we put a nail in the wall and somehow wired the tree to it. Say what you want to, but it worked.

For a little while, the cedar tree glistened with aluminum icicles and construction paper and the living room was absolutely glorious. Visitors were greeted with the smell of the forest as soon as they opened the door. I can still smell it every time someone says Christmas now.

The wood stove had to be roaring for the heat to make it to the kitchen and bedrooms, so the average temperature in that living room hovered around ninety during the day. The little tree held on for about three days before it began to drop its needles, a few here and there at first. By the time Christmas arrived, there were more needles than gifts under the tree, and if you looked carefully, you could see bare branches under the tinsel. We had to take what was left of the tree out as soon as Christmas day was over.

Looking back, I think it may have been a miracle that the little trees didn't spontaneously burst into flames and light up the whole holler. But in their short lifetimes, they made such an impression that they are remembered all these years later.

*Christmas tree image is borrowed; enjoy!