Kent Bernhardt: O Christmas Tree

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 13, 2015

A recent Pew Survey revealed that eight out of ten Americans will put up a Christmas tree this year, compared to about 92 percent who said they did so as children.

That basically means that, while the Christmas tree is still a significant part of our holiday celebration, fewer are going up these days. And I think I know why.

A Christmas tree is a lot of work. It’s a pleasant chore often steeped in family togetherness, but it’s still a lot of work.

Even if you stored the tree properly last year, there are deep dark forces at work in your attic to ensure that the lights on it won’t work this year; or the treasured family ornament that occupies the top spot on the tree will be missing.

To be fair, they’re probably not as much work today as they were when I was a kid. Those days often involved a lengthy outdoor search for the perfect pine that would give its life to occupy a place of honor in our living room.

Dad would announce in early December that it was time to head into the woods to find a tree. Most trees in those days were live trees, so there wasn’t yet a huge push to have your tree up right after the last bite of Thanksgiving turkey. Early December was fine.

He’d grab the saw out of the basement, and we’d suit up in our winter finest and head into the woods. That was the moment my clock of Christmas anticipation would begin to tick. I knew early in my life when there’s a tree in your living room, it attracts presents.

I’m not sure how we got away with cutting down a pine tree on someone else’s property, but it never seemed to be a problem. I don’t recall hearing a single shotgun blast during my childhood as we captured our piney prey and tied it on top of the car.

With the tree hauled into the living room and standing in place thanks to two perfectly attached pieces of wood, it was time for the family decorations to come out of the attic.

First, we’d string the multi colored lights. Christmas trees had plenty of color in my youth because nearly everything on TV was in black and white, so we had to compensate somehow.

I have a theory that Christmas lights are purposely designed to fail every year. I suspect there’s a secret governmental agency that sees to that, and they collect baskets full of super secret tax dollars from unsuspecting citizens who have to buy new ones each year. That’s just a theory, of course.

To add to the frustration in my youth, an entire string of Christmas lights would simply not work at all if there was but one bad bulb. Seeking out the one errant light became almost an annual Christmas tradition in itself. Joyous cheers would ring through the household when we finally replaced the right bulb.

We would then add the most fragile of the decorations, those frail glass globes that had been in the family for generations. Attic urchins would almost assuredly destroy one or two without explanation, and the household cat would take care of a couple more on an annual basis.

Miraculously though, most would survive from year to year, though we never seemed to have enough of those tiny metal hooks on hand.

Finally, fresh boxes full of Christmas tree icicles would be strewn over the branches of the tree, adding an almost majestic effect.

Though sold in hardware stores, these icicles were secretly manufactured by the government, and guaranteed to become entangled in your vacuum cleaner motor after the holidays, causing its early demise and forcing you to buy a new one from Sears, which was also secretly owned by the government.

Still, when all was said and done, we could enjoy our artistic creation for weeks, not to mention the aroma of fresh pine that would meander through the house. The saddest day of the year to any child was the day after Christmas when the decorations were put back in the attic and the tree removed to a wooded grave; or worse yet, burned.

These days, my Christmas tree comes out of the same box it was stored in last year, pre lit and ready for action. Decorating it is a shorter and more convenient process, but still floods my heart with memories.

During his last Christmas on this earth, my dad reminded me that if he could build his house all over again, he would design a secret closet just off the living room where he could slide the fully decorated Christmas tree into each year, and just slide it back out again the next year.

As much as I enjoyed the Christmas tree traditions of my past, I like his thinking.


Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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