Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Big Bunch O' Weihnachtsbäume

I have a column in the Boston Herald today. In the abstract, it talks about traditions. I'd love for you to go read it, so here's a link. Meanwhile, if you want something else to look at, here are some parts of a certain long-standing tradition - Christmas trees! These are a few I've known and loved...


First off, some of you may be laboring under the assumption that the German for Christmas tree is "tannenbaum", since there is a nice Christmas song called "O Tannenbaum" which is usually sung in English as "O Christmas Tree". Actually, "tannenbaum" just means "fir tree". A rightly decorated and venerated Christmas tree is "weihnachtsbaum", and thus the plural is "weihnachtsbaume". Don't say you never learn anything when you come here.

Second, you may recognize this as a rerun (especially if you go to make a comment and see one of yours from a couple of years ago already there!) Hey, the NEW stuff is over at the Boston Herald!

Third, there is no third, so here goes!
A few of years ago, MY WIFE bought me a Christmas tree. It is silver and shiny and I love it.

This is not my new shiny silver tree. This is a really old shiny silver tree. It belonged to my Grandma and Grandpa on my Mother's side. The first time I saw it, I thought they had lost their marbles. My eight-year-old brain could not process the idea of a Christmas tree that wasn't green, smelling of pine, and otherwise traditional. I was a staunchly conservative eight-year-old. Anyway, there it was in their living room, with the only lights on it coming from one of those spinning disks of color (not seen in that photo, but here's one...)

Once I got used to my grandparent's weird aluminum tree, it was kind of cool and I looked forward to seeing it each year. Having such a thing in a house full of people who love you, and give you presents, will tend to make you like it, I think. I've had fond memories of it for many years, but the last remaining vestige of the thing is the photo I just showed you. The tree itself is long gone.

The person standing next to this somewhat odd-looking bush is my Aunt Pat, sister of my grandfather on my father's side, a.k.a. Aunt Agnes to some others in the family. You may ask why she was Aunt Pat to me and Aunt Agnes to others. It seems she didn't care for the name Agnes. She decided that she preferred Pat. I never knew she had the name "Agnes" until I was a teenager. Therefore, she was at least successful in convincing me that her name was Pat.

Aunt Pat had an outstanding physical characteristic that I found utterly fascinating as a child. One of her eyes was a milky sort of light blue, while the other was hazel. This came about via an accident at the eye doctor. He mistakenly put ether into her eye and she was immediately blinded on that side, permanently. To show you the non-litigious nature of things in those days, she did not immediately sue him for everything he owned - which she no doubt would have won - but instead just chalked it up to a human mistake and went on with her life.  Can you imagine that happening now? No, neither can I, not even at Christmas.

This Christmas tree was at my paternal grandparent's apartment in Roslindale. From the curtains, the wallpaper, and the date on the back of the photo, I'd say it was 1961.

One of the things I've always liked about the Sullivan side of my family is that they're mostly not sticklers for symmetry. Whatever branches the tree came with would likely remain with the tree for the duration. Also, if a bigger clump of tinsel was on one of the branches than was on any of the others, so what? Live and let live (and if you don't like it, drink until you do) was the motto.

Note the clump of branches hanging over the doorway. Waste not, want not (especially when it comes to the drinks) was another motto.

I don't want to leave you with the impression that they were a bunch of totally drunken inebriates. They weren't. They were wonderful people whom I dearly loved. Many of them did enjoy their alcoholic beverages, though, and that sort of pleasure does tend to bring out the beauty in sparkly things and perhaps lead to pinning up the trimmings over a door frame.

For what it's worth, I think it's lovely, too, and I'm disgustingly sober right now.

From my childhood in Dorchester comes this photo of the best use for any tree: as a giant toy for a cat to play with. Another shot of the same thing...

I could watch that sort of action for hours at a time when I was a kid. Heck, I'd love it now. I'm still very easily amused.

A tree of more recent vintage, perhaps 1995. You'll notice that I took the classic Sullivan approach to things like trimming off branches and distributing the tinsel evenly.

Actually, I did prune this tree a bit. When I got it home, I discovered that it was too tall for our room.
I had to cut about six inches off the trunk. The problem was, the only tool I had to work with was a coping saw. If you're not familiar with what a coping saw looks like, here's a photo of one.

Notice the very thin blade. A coping saw is used to make intricate cuts in thin pieces of wood. It is not meant to take the place of a rip or crosscut saw, the types usually used to tackle such things as logs. Also, a coping saw blade builds up heat very quickly and snaps very easily because of that.

It took me a good 45 minutes and I went through four blades. I think I lost two pounds in sweat and five years off my life due to the aggravation. My hands were covered in pine resin and as sore as if I were a 112-year-old arthritic. Of course, I could have hopped down to the hardware store, bought a big cheap saw for ten bucks and saved myself a half-hour, but where's the fun in that?

This was the year that we used Pointy The Poinsettia as our Christmas tree.

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't re-run that story and instead only gave a link to it. I hate to break the news this way to those of you who may be fans of Pointy, but Pointy is no longer with us. He went to poinsettia heaven, a few years back, due to a case of root rot.

I had been so successful in anthropomorphizing him, even to myself, that I actually cried when I put his remains out for the trash pickup. Anyway, it just seems wrong to re-run the story, with its happy ending, since I know he's gone. What can I say? I'm a sentimental goof. It's still there at the link, though, if you want to read it (and I still think it's a really good piece although I haven't been able to convince anyone with the title of "editor" to part with cash in support of that proposition.)

The Grove O' Tree (trademark pending) from four years ago. Here are a couple of previous incarnations...

MY WIFE once worked in retail. She had an opportunity to attain five trees of varying heights that had been in window displays. For most of ten years, we used those five trees (or random combinations of them) for our Christmas tree.

But now, I've got a SHINY NEW SILVER TREE and I guess it's about time I showed it to you!

I'm being deadly serious here. I think my new tree is THE most beautiful Christmas tree ever. Your mileage may vary, and that's allowed (if not enjoyed...) I won't pop a gasket if you believe the best trees are green, smell of pine, shed needles, and present a better place for cats to play. Those are all good things, mostly. For me, though, this is the one.

So, what was/is your favorite Christmas tree?

Soon, with more better stuff (right now, actually, if you go to the Boston Herald!).


joeh said...

Mrs. C. has a small fake tree in a box in the basement. We have not taken it out in two years. It is my favorite tree.

Craig said...

I've always regarded, um, non-wooden Christmas trees as something like the utter height of Xmas kitsch. Most especially the 60s-vintage aluminum trees, and MOST especially the rotating wheels-o-color. . . But I would never deny you your own enjoyment of same. . . ;)

When Jenn and I were first married, tho, our first Christmas tree was a little 6-foot fake tree that almost looked real (I know, I know. . .), that we bought on sale on Dec 27th. When I was first reunited with my birth-mother (who is a convert to Judaism), she was aghast (shocked, I tell you, shocked) to find us making use of a fake tree, so for several years, she would mail us a Christmas tree. Yes, you read that right - she would mail us a tree. It would arrive in a box, about a foot-and-a-half wide, and 7 feet long. I shudder to think what it cost her to do that. But she REALLY didn't want us to be putting up a fake Christmas tree. . .


Tabor said...

I have had both artificial and real trees. Mostly real when we had the kids and then went to artificial when they left. But never had a silver tree and in all honesty have not seen them recently!

Suldog said...

Joe - Tell her to get your favorite tree out of the box, damn it. What you do with it after that is your business. Or, if she says, "Sure...", and then installs it somewhere the sun don't shine, my apologies.

Craig - It must have cost a fortune to ship a tree each year. I find it spectacularly funny that she was a convert to Judaism and she felt so strongly about a tree. Great stuff.

Tabor - The silver was a perfect compromise for us. I like colored lights; MY WIFE likes white or clear. This way, no lights!

Hilary said...

I enjoyed seeing your trees of Christmas past and present, once again. The best trees are those which make you happy.

messymimi said...

You have, and have had, wonderful trees.

My favorites were when my kids were young and i'd take them to my parent's smaller second home, the one they had near us. We would set up the artificial tree, i'd put on the lights so the kids wouldn't shock themselves or burn the house down, and they would proudly decorate. Since they were little, all of the decorations usually ended up on the bottom half of the tree, and mostly on one side. They were beautiful.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Mine's the one we have right now.
It's green.
It's fake.
It came with lights.
We'll see if it is still my favorite when it comes time to put it away.

Suldog said...

Hilary - Ooh, you meanie! You outed this as a repeat! Glad you liked it, anyway... :-)

Mimi - Love the part about most of the ornaments ending up near the bottom of the tree.

(He's not my uncle, but he may be yours) Skip - Do cats like it? If so, it passes inspection.

Jackie said...

I thought I recognized my Christmas card on your door....and I haven't sent you one this year (yet.)
I love your stories about Christmas trees past.
And...I'm still amazed at that little slot in the door that your mail comes through. I have so many questions....but not here...and not now.

Jenny Woolf said...

Good grief, you love photographing christmas trees don't you! I always felt ashamed of ours which was one of those black light up things with LEDs, so last year I got a real one in a pot, it's been outside on the balcony all year and it's fine. Trouble is we have been away and didn't get round to decorating it this year. I hope we will manage to do so today, before Christmas is actually over ! :)

Craig said...

Well, she had fond memories of Christmas tress from her Lutheran childhood. And since we were going to all the trouble of, you know, being Christian, she just thought we should be doing it right. . .


Mich said...

I think your silver tree is lovely. It certainly takes out the mess that is individual strands of tinsel.

This is our first year in like 14 years that we haven't had a massive 8-foot tree (new house, no high ceilings). I put the tree up and did all the lights. Naturally, it looks like an extremely drunk person did it.


Michelle H. said...

My aunt had a silver tree she decorated with blue balls. Huge. It took up most of the living room. These trees are making a comeback.

Daryl said...

as a jew i have to say ALL christmas trees are awesome and beautiful to me ..

Nandini Murthy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shammickite said...

Your silver tree is gorgeous!
There was a silver tree in a box in the basement when we moved into our house in the late 70s, we used it in the basement rec room for a few years until it got just too scraggy. Upstairs we always had a real tree. Then I bought a fake tree on sale after Christmas, and used that for a number of years. My sons were disgusted, they are real tree aficionados. This year the fake tree is staying in the box. The only person who will wrestle it up from the basement is me, and the only person who will have to put it away is again.... me.