Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Calendar - Day 1 - The Christmas Tree

Daddy was gone nearly every Christmas I was growing up. He was a sailor in the U.S. Navy and stationed aboard a ship. But we weren’t alone in not having our Daddy home for Christmas. Norfolk, Virginia was a Navy town, and all of my friends had the same kind of Daddy. Gone, serving their country.

So Mama did her best to make Christmas the very best it could be. When I was very young, she would take my sister and I to the local Christmas tree lots and she would hunt for hours for the perfect little Christmas tree to adorn our home. The one Christmas I can remember Daddy being home, he went to the country and cut down a tree for the celebration.

When I got a little older, Mama became enamored with the artificial Christmas tree. Not like the one her mother had [all white and plastic looking!], but she strived to get one that was the most realistic possible. [I suppose before my grandmother, all of my ancestors had real trees in their parlors!]

Mama always set up our Christmas tree on the 12th of December. That was hers and Daddy’s wedding anniversary. Since he was gone, it just seemed a very appropriate time to set it up. It wasn’t like today, where families are setting up their trees and putting out decorations the day the Thanksgiving turkey is served! No sirree!!! You didn’t see a single Christmas decoration for sale, much less adorning a house or lamp post, until after December 1st!

Mama would always tell us a couple of days before hand what the big day was for decorating. My sister and I would be anticipating the event on pins and needles! That evening, Mama would make a simple supper, and we would get down to the business of the tree.

Mama would call out the number for the branches as they were inserted, and we would hand her the appropriate branch to insert into the base of the artificial tree. Once it was all together, there would be long stretches of standing back and inspecting the tree for balance, and the branches would be meticulously rearranged until they suited Mama’s taste. Then there would be more standing back and inspecting the tree for its straightness!

Once the tree was just perfect, Mama would begin opening the many boxes of Christmas decorations. There were decorations that she had when she was a little girl. Why, that had to have been a hundred years ago to a girl of 10 or so!

The old mercury glass ornaments were my favorites! [Still are!] They catch the light and reflect it in a thousand rainbows across the canvas of the branches!

The lights were inspected, and hung upon the tree. We’d all three stand back and admire the tree with just the lights. How I loved it just like that! [I’ve often thought I’d love to do a Christmas tree with just crystal icicles and white lights. How I love the lights upon the tree!]

Mama would then pour all three of us our first cup of Christmas eggnog, and we would begin the time consuming hanging of the Christmas ornaments. Each one would be taken from its little nest in the box with reverence, and we would have to ooh and aah over its beauty before we would hang it in a place of honor upon the tree. This process would results in at least a two-hour commitment! But we didn’t mind…it was something we simply adored doing!

Once the ornaments were all hung, the throwing of the artificial icicles would begin! I suppose there are many techniques for placing these long silvery strands upon the tree. But Mama’s technique [and the one upon which she made us adhere to as well] was to stand back, grasp a single strand loosely between thumb and forefinger, and toss gently toward the tree. It should be tossed, never thrown, or never draped, to cause a more natural looking affect.

The results were a stunningly beautiful Christmas tree!

When everything was placed upon the tree, Mama would pull her ancient crèche from it’s box. It was nestled delicately in tissue paper. We were never allowed to touch these pieces until Mama had unwrapped each and every one. And then she would allow us to carefully place the stable beneath the Christmas tree, and place the figures of Joseph, Mary, the three Wise men, two shepherds, a cow, a donkey, and a the little manger bed in their places. Then reverently, we would all three lie on our tummies beneath the lit tree and place the figure of baby Jesus into His bed, where He lay wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Afterward, we would turn out all the lights, with only the lights of the Christmas tree glowing, sip our eggnog, and sing Christmas carols together.

That tradition hasn’t changed much for me. Even though for the past several years it’s just been my dear hubby and I! Little children haven’t been a part of our home in some time, except for short little visits. Still, I never set up my Christmas tree until after the 10th of December. I prefer a real tree over an artificial one, but sometimes time and money preclude that an artificial one must be used!

I still reverently place each bulb upon the tree. Although I never use artificial metallic icicles, I do love crystal ones! And while I never did the tree all in white, I usually choose a singular or bicolor selection [white and silver, silver and purple, silver and red, blue and white, etc.] I usually use just white lights.

The one thing I have never veered from, is the time-honored tradition of placing the crèche beneath the Christmas tree. Each year, I lie down upon my tummy, and wiggle beneath the tree, where I place each piece. It is with reverence and awe that I place the tiny baby Jesus within His manger. And although I now have grandchildren, I lie there gazing upon the manger scene before me, and I cannot help but break forth in song and sing…

“Away in the manger no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lays down His sweet head,
The stars in the sky look down where He lays,
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay!

The cattle are lowing the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes!
I love the Lord Jesus look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle till watch lullaby.

Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me I pray
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven to live with Thee there!”


Thomas MacEntee said...

Wow - what a great post. You really captured the spirit of the Christmas tree and the importance of passing down traditions from generation to generation.

nurse2 said...

This story brought a tear to my eye even though my family performed the tree-trimming ritual a bit differently. The warmth, peace and togetherness is evident, and, no matter how you get there, that's what the season is all about.