Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 14, 2012

In praise of Christmas trees from the past


GOSHEN — Christmas trees have “evolved” through the years from the simple pine that was cut from a nearby woods a century or more ago to our present nursery-grown stock that has been nurtured, shaped, sprayed for insects and, yes, even colored in some cases. One might now say “this ain’t your grandfather’s tree.”

Christmas trees have run their course from natural to fake to natural and back to fake to potted live trees and back to natural.

MY PARENTS’ FIRST TREES were natural because that’s all there were, but through the years as a teenager it changed to the metal tree, silver with that revolving multi-colored disc with a light bulb that would make the tree sparkle like a diamond in a kaleidoscope.

Also gone forever is the aluminum tinsel that had to be separated nearly one strand at a time — I’m guessing the electrical hazard put a stop to these. It was impressive once decorated but along with the hazard they were quite heavy. It was always fun to give each strand a toss to give it a more natural look. Each year they would be removed and then saved for another year. Aluminum tinsel evolved into the silver-colored plastic variety that is still popular today.

GONE TOO IS THE  “larger than life” old-fashioned three-inch bulbs that were replaced by the smaller two-inch variety and currently the very tiny (and much cheaper) clear and translucent bulbs.

Continuing with the relics of the past, how can we forget the popcorn strung on string each year that we used to circle the tree —sometimes even dyeing it red and green with food coloring. Then there were buckeyes, strung on strong twine because of their weight, that were used also to circle the tree. In years past nearly all of the decorations were homemade because of frugality during hard times.

ALSO POPULAR during the mid-1900s was tree “flocking.” This was done usually in the garage or outside somewhere with an aerosol can of flocking material. If you wanted it to be outstanding with full coverage you could plan on using at least three or four of these cans. Sometimes color was sprayed on in reds, greens and yellows in addition to the white to create a really festive tree.

Commercial applications became available in the following years, relieving the homeowner of this chore and mess but at the same time making it more expensive.

There may be some trees that are still flocked but I think you would be more inclined to find them in a department store display — they’re quite impressive and expensive when done professionally.   

Christmas trees don’t have to be perfect to be cherished by a family, as illustrated by a “best friend since childhood” who authored a short novel “The Lonely Christmas Tree,” illustrated by Karen Gruntman.

 Donald “Bud” Cripe, who passed away several years ago after struggling with pancreatic cancer, was inspired to write about a “not so perfect” last remaining tree at a local retail outlet.

THE SCRAGGLY TREE, which he dubbed “Little Tim” in his novel, was the last tree on the lot and was admired by two small children whose parents couldn’t afford a tree purchase but was witnessed by the owner of the tree lot. Realizing their disappointment, and with only a day left ’til Christmas, the owner bundled the tree and presented it to the two children as a gift.

As the story goes, word traveled across the small town that there were no gifts for the children and no decorations for the tree. As small communities so often do however, they were showered with gifts and tinsel. The decorations covered any imperfections in the tree and the children beamed with joy.

Thanks, Bud — God rest your soul.