Living Columns & Blogs

The Christmas tree is more than just a decoration. It’s filled with stories and memories.

Needles of Fraser firs are familiar to holiday buyers in North Carolina, where it’s the official state Christmas tree.
Needles of Fraser firs are familiar to holiday buyers in North Carolina, where it’s the official state Christmas tree. Observer File Photo

By now, your Christmas tree is probably up. Maybe even the stockings are hung by the chimney with care and the assurance, for most children, that St. Nicholas will soon will be there.

In the mountains near Boone, the hills are alive with the sound of chain saws at the Christmas tree farm owned by the Wilcox family. My niece Melanie Wilcox estimates that by Christmas Day, workers will have cut and shipped up to 20,000 trees, some as tall as 18 feet, to various parts of the country.

Melanie recalled an amusing incident that occurred during “choose and cut” days when throngs of people once roamed the tree farm, selecting their own trees.

It so happened that the Wilcoxes’ son Berkley was wielding his chain saw with a life-like baby doll in an infant carrier strapped to his chest. As part of a freshman health class assignment, he had to care for the doll for a weekend.

Berkley’s responses to the doll’s computerized cries — when it needed to be fed, get a diaper changed or just wanted to be held — were automatically transmitted to the teacher.

You can imagine the consternation and alarm among the tree shoppers roaming the fields. Some complained to Berkley’s parents, “There’s a boy up there using a chain saw with a baby strapped to his chest! “

Some tree shoppers confronted Berkley directly, threatening to report him to the authorities for endangering a baby’s life.

I almost feel guilty confessing that this year we have a small artificial tree. Time was when we and the children roamed the Raleigh tree lots seeking the perfect tree and bringing it home strapped atop the car.

I enjoyed the excitement of our little family’s decorating the tree, often pausing to comment on the origin of certain decorations.

But I haven’t forgotten the annual ordeal of getting the tree to stand upright and stay put. When I’d think that I had won the battle, the tree would come crashing down, strewing tinsel and decorations across the living room floor and furniture.

What a relief it was when our next door neighbors discontinued decorating a tree and gave us their large, substantial tree stand.

Problem solved.

A Raleigh family, friends of ours, has an unusual Christmas tree problem. Their two spring spaniels, Willy and Harry, are attracted to the tree. A makeshift gate prevents their access to the tree in the living room. But when someone leaves the gate open, the dogs enjoy walking round and round the tree, using its rough branches as back scratchers while they trampled on the beautifully wrapped packages.

The mother’s threats to take the gifts to the garage until Christmas Day the next time someone leaves the gate open don’t always work.

According to internet sources, Germany, way back in the 16th century, started the Christmas tree tradition, when devout Christians decorated trees at Christmas.

Yet, in early Massachusetts, people were fined for decorating trees at Christmas. The practice was considered by the Pilgrims to be a pagan rite.

When I was a youngster growing up in the Great Depression, choosing and decorating the holiday tree was an exciting event.

I would trail along behind my older brothers through the woods until they found a cedar tree that suited them. They would drag it home, nail a plank to its base, take it into the parlor and nail the base to the floor.

Later, my older sister and I would decorate the tree with pine cones, strings of popcorn and “icicles,” or slivers of foil purchased for five or 10 cents. The “icicles” were carefully saved from year to year.

I enjoy riding through our neighborhood at night viewing the assorted lawn, window and door decorations. Some are startlingly creative.

I recall a memorable Christmas vignette that one of our N&O newspaper carriers once described to me. He said that he was driving through a Raleigh neighborhood delivering papers in the pre-dawn darkness on a Christmas day.

“All the houses were dark except one, “ he recalled. “Through the windows, I saw a father sitting in front of a beautifully decorated tree, cuddling a little girl still in her nightgown on his lap. She looked to be about four or five years old.

Apparently, the two were waiting for the rest of the family to awaken and begin opening the gifts piled under the tree.

“I’ve never forgotten that experience,” the carrier said. “I just sat there under the starry sky for at least five minutes, drinking in the scene and thinking to myself, ‘Silent night, holy night.’”

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