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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

CHRISTMAS STORY #3: OH CHRISTMAS TREE!

"Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
How lovely are your branches.
They're green when summer sun is bright
And in the winter when it's white.
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree,
How lovely are your branches!"

When I was decorating my apartment this week and setting up my little gold artificial tree, I thought of this story I'd written a few years ago. I used to lug a real tree home on my trolley and set it up in my apartment, but the last couple of years I've opted for an artificial one. It's pretty though, all hung with gold and burgundy balls with an angel on top. As usual I decorated my plants with lights and baubles too, so my new apartment looks festive and bright, all ready for the holidays! I even have a fireplace where I have hung my Christmas stockings!

Oh Christmas Tree!
Two weeks before Christmas. The tree lots are full of fresh-cut firs and pines. Families make special outings to pick this year's tree. Around the city, coloured lights shine heralding the Yuletide.


In the line-up at the Supermarket, I browse through the display of magazines, their covers advertising theChristmas season, displaying showcase homes with plump trees bedizoned with extravagant decorations. Some trees are sprayed gold or silver. And under the dazzling branches are heaps of designer-decorated packages.

I am reminded of other Christmas trees. MY Christmas trees. Although perhaps not so grandly decorated, they are distinctly memorable and remarkably special.

At home I open a box of photo albums and take a nostalgic trip to Christmases past. in a black-and-white photograph, hand tinted by my mother, is Tree Number One. My first Christmas tree: a spindly fir garlanded and hung with lots of tinsel and ornaments. Under its thin branches are the toys Santa has left. In front of the tree, on a litle rocking chair sits a large doll with a frilly bonnet and pink dress. Next to it is a doll crib filled with stuffed toys and more dolls. Two stockings hang on the red-brick fireplace behind it, one lumpy with fruit and candy, the other a store-bought stocking full of surprises.

In another photo, taken several years later, the tree has ivory-soap 'snow' on the branches and garlands of popcorn and cranberries. My Mom enjoyed creating special effects for our Christmas tree. Under it are two dolls in highchairs, the boy dolls our mother lovingly sewed wardrobes for. Mine was named Tommy.

Every Christmas was magic when I was a child, a splendid family affair with a house full of visiting relatives and good cheer. Even when we grew older, each year at tree decorating time, it was a special family get-together with mom's delicious Christmas cookies, ginger ale and popcorn for treats as we dipped into the box of decorations and drew out a bauble for the tree. It was a time of nostalgia too, because each ornament had its own little memory attached.

When I grew up and had children of my own, their tree always had some of the decorations they hd made: toilet-roll angels wiht cotton-batting hair and gold wings; egg-carton bells painted red and green and glued with sparkles; cut-out trees with sticker decorations.

One year we had a cookie-decorating contest. We baked sugar cookies, decorated them, and hung them on the tree. The most elaborately decorated cookie won. We saved the best one. They lasted a year or two until some mice discovered them.

Another year we set out a box of ribbons, glue, paper and sparkles and invited each guest that entered our house to make a special decoration for our tree.

Sometimes, other things had to make do for Christmas trees. The year I was going away to California to attend my daughter's wedding, my avocado plant served as a tree, hung with tinsel and silver balls. Another time, when I was living in a cramped bachelour suite, I decorated my ficus plant with lights and tinsel. The year I went to live in Greece, I bought a small laurel plant and decorated it with tiny lights and baubles.I still have a few of the old treasured ornaments, and every Christmas as I unpack the decoration box to trim my Christmas tree, I am filled with nostalgia, remembering Christmases past: the chenille wreaths from my childhood trees, the expensive silve and gold globes bought to decorate the first tree shared by my husband and I; oiur children's special ornaments -- little creamic bells collected on my children's visits to Santa Claus; special little gift ornaments made by friends; starched snow-flakes crocheted by my daughter; ethnic decorations from Mexico and China given to me by newcomers at the daycares where I have worked.

I always look forward to Christmas, especially to the tree decorating time. Some of those old ornaments are getting tattered and tarnished. Each year I have to part with a few, but each year I buy one new ornament to replace the old. Today my visiting friend and I went and bought a tiny fir. Tomorrow we will decorate it together. This will be a memorable Christmas because I'm sharing the tree-decorating with this special friend. And while we're decorating, we'll be singing the old familiar song:

"Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how lovely are your branches!"

This year's special ornaments came from Chile and Argentina: A little clay Nativity scene with Mapuchu Indians and a small glass angel from Mendoza.

"The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir."
Anonymous Carol

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