This is the fourth in a series of Christmas reflections.
Is there a more identifying feature of Christmas than the Yule tree? The only Christmas day of my life which did not contain a Yule tree was the December I spent in Korea, and even then, when I returned home on leave on January 5, 1973, the tree remained in place in the front dining room on Fellowship Street.
I was due to leave Korea on January 8th, but since the 8th was a Monday, I had made a slight adjustment on my orders, so that they now read January 5th as the day I was supposed to leave. Coincidentally, the 5th was a Friday, so I left after work, and no one noticed. Walking through the front door on Fellowship Street, and realizing that the tree was still up, in honor of my return home, was an uplifting experience.
The Christmas tree represents a connection between when we were kids, and Christmas was the penultimate occasion of the year, and now, when the amount of attention given to the Holidays, depends on what else is going on around us. During the years of teaching, we went each year on the last Friday afternoon before the big day, up Bell Springs Road to the “Christmas Tree Farm.”
After we added on the living room with the ten foot high ceiling, I insisted that the tree match its environment. When we went searching for a tree in those days, we were looking for a tall, well filled-out tree, which filled the whole bay window of our lower living room. With the three different seven-feet-high windows reflecting back the sparkling lights, the lower living room was transformed into a panoramic Holiday scene, and it set the stage for our two-week sojourn from the rigors of the classroom.
Yes, it overwhelmed our living space, but we let it, spreading the gifts out on the red, glittery spread beneath the tree, and crawling to the base each morning to fill the reservoir with spring water, to help keep the tree fresh. The pine scent permeated the air, and wafted upstairs, aided by the branches of fir that lined the railing on the way up the steps.
On that Friday that ushered in the celebratory part of Christmas, Annie used to present our annual tree-decorating feast, which consisted of only finger foods, all elaborately planned and prepared to coincide with outfitting the tree with its colorful ensemble. Hang a glittering red ball, munch a stuffed mushroom. Dangle some tinsel, crunch some shrimp. Attach an elf, snag a little smoky sausage, and so it went, until both the tree and our stomachs were maxed out, filled to the point of bursting.
On the television we would be watching one of a collection of Holiday classics, selected in advance, so as to complete the evening’s entertainment. Our only consideration was the ongoing possibility that snow would interfere with tree hunt, because farther up the road, the elevation made it more likely that we would encounter the white stuff.
The year I blew my knee out on Friday, December Thirteenth, when we went to acquire the tree the following Friday, I was on crutches, and the snow was impossibly deep. We had floundered our way up to the Christmas Tree Farm, at the ten-mile-mark, only because the road had been well-packed before us. Now, as we maneuvered our way slowly around, we found that the steadily falling snow had obliterated any chance we had of selecting a tree, based on anything other than size-and luck.
We could see whether a tree was tall or not; we just couldn’t tell if it was aesthetically pleasing or more of the Charley Brown variety. In either case we made our selection, cut it down with the bow saw, and placed it in the bed of the truck, nestled in the snow. I couldn’t drive because I couldn’t depress the clutch with my knee being injured, but Annie did an admirable job, gliding and sliding our way down the driveway, to deposit us and the tree in front of the house. Anytime we drive a vehicle down to the house from Bell Springs Road in the snow, we risk the possibility that we will not be able to get back out until after the storm passes and the snow melts.
I used to say, “The only time I don’t mind being snowed in is the first day of Christmas Vacation.” This particular year Mother Nature listened and obliged.