Decking the Halls
Today was Christmas decorating day at the Den Household. With the help of my parents, the Den Son, some hot mulled cider, and a plate of freshly baked Italian cookies, I got the tree mostly trimmed and the rest of the decorations up. (I say the tree is “mostly” finished because I had no tinsel, so I’ll have to pick some up after work tomorrow and add it then.)
I confess to being a bit of a Christmas tree snob. For one thing, unless you’re allergic or absolutely can’t afford it, only a real tree will do. In my childhood, that meant going to a tree farm to choose and cut down our own, but I haven’t been to a tree farm in years. (I think I’ll change that next Christmas.) This year, I bought my tree from a nursery not far from where I used to live; they get North Carolina Fraser firs that are cut just a few days before being shipped north, so they’re still reasonably fresh. You can tell how fresh a cut Christmas tree is by how much water it takes; mine is drinking more than a half gallon a day, which is pretty good.
The downside of a Fraser fir is that the branches aren’t necessarily strong enough to hold heavy ornaments, of which I have many. My strategy is to hang the heaviest ornaments first, then hang those that are big but light, and finally fill in with the small, light ones that can go almost anywhere. I have about a jillion ornaments, but I found a place for every last one of them. My hope is that if I cut my own tree next year, I’ll be able to find a spruce, which have much stiffer branches that will hold the ornaments better.
The other advantage of cutting my own is that I’ll be able to put it up a little later. We’ve never been early Christmas decorators in my family. When I was a kid, we didn’t put up our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve—a tradition my father got from his parents—and we didn’t take it down until Epiphany. It makes sense if you consider that the 12 days of Christmas really begin on Christmas Day; canonically, the period leading up to it is Advent. But it’s more convenient to trim the tree a week or two early. It’s my one concession to the reality of the culture in which I live.
Another tradition to which I hold is the collection of ornaments. Perhaps you’ve seen trees on which everything matches or has a theme. I don’t do that. My ornaments are what I’ve picked up along the way, some going back to my childhood, others that were made by my son when he was younger. Almost every one has a story, and half the fun is remembering where they came from. Even the lights I use are old style, the kind that use frosted C7 bulbs. I haven’t seen the strings for sale anywhere but online in at least a decade, but I can still find replacements bulbs in many colors at the local hardware store.
The family Christmas trees of my youth were topped by a star, but I use an angel topper that my grandmother gave me when I got my first apartment. It goes well with my dozens of angel ornaments, not to mention my large collection of angel figurines that I keep out year round. I also depart from family habits by forgoing the traditional under-the-tree village, instead displaying an olive wood manger set from the same grandmother who gave me the tree topper angel.
I don’t do a lot of additional holiday decorating. I have candles in the windows, several Byers’ Carolers, and a few assorted other items that I display in my living room. I’m not into evergreen garlands coming down the stairs or giant light-up reindeer on the front lawn. I wouldn’t mind putting up some exterior Christmas lights, but that’s a project for another year.
The only other decoration I don’t have but must get for next Christmas is a big wreath on my front door. I’m waiting until I get a new front door and new storm door that will properly show off a wreath. Like my tree, the wreath will have to be real. Check back here a year from now for a picture.