It wasn’t until about 30 years ago that I realized the reason my sinuses hurt, my nose was clogged or running, and my eyes were always red, itchy and watery at Christmastime was the big fir or pine tree invariably sitting in our living room. The other day I went into that fancy Uptown grocery store on the old streetcar tracks, passed through a throng of fresh trees and wreaths, got a whiff of that pungent forest scent so pleasurable to everybody but me, and remembered the days before our family resorted to — gasp — artificial greenery at this time of year.
At first we bought the plastic plant in the 10- or 12-foot size, attaching the limbs to a painted green wooden pole that served as the trunk. Later we got fake trees that not only looked better and were fully assembled, but had foliage capable of bending upward for storage after Santa had done his thing around them on Christmas Eve. The ones that came with lights permanently attached were my favorites, and for all I know you don’t even have to actually put all the decorations on them these days.
It’s been a while since I investigated, having discovered the perfect 3-foot-tall tree with lights already strung on and sitting in a cute red faux flower pot. I covered it with plaid bows made from that red, green and gold ribbon with flexible wire edges that you can coax back into shape if they get twisted or crushed, and — voila! Instant décor every Christmas. When it’s time to put it away, it slips — still sporting lights and bows — into a garbage bag and goes into the attic.
Oh, sweetie, don’t tell me I have no Yuletide spirit.
I’ll bet that your family — if you aren’t just barely out of high school or college — had one of those silver foil trees so popular in years gone by. Remember them? They came with decorations of baby pink or blue and some were attached to a sort of floodlight that shined through a revolving filter that turned them alternately either color. It’s hard to explain to those who’ve never seen one, and even I never descended to that level in my decorating.
When I was a kid, our Christmas trees were always cedar, which Mother preferred, and cut from Daddy’s land not far from our tiny village. Some folks had pines and I remember that one woman of our acquaintance brought home one with almost horizontal limbs and twigs upon which she layered cotton expertly cut to resemble snow. It was beautiful.
The lights on our trees back then were always multi-colored and you had to check them out about 10 days before Christmas every year to make sure they were all working. The string wouldn’t shine if even one bulb was broken and it had to be located and replaced. Christmas lights seemed to be much more fragile back in those days and were a hassle to handle; daddies inclined to cuss often had to curb their tongues before they finished the aggravating process of getting them ready for the current season.
Somewhere along the years — before or after the pink and blue and silver trees — we got those bubble lights that tried to stage a comeback last year. Remember them? They were glass tubes about 3 inches long through which a fluid bubbled, turning different colors. Everybody had them for indoors at one time, but I don’t know whether they’ve caught back on. Then those little white lights like the ones on my latest tree came into vogue.
Folks didn’t light up the outsides of their houses when I was a child. You could buy those little electric “candles” to put inside your windows but that was about all.
Then, when our youngsters were in kindergarten, what I sarcastically called the “bar and grill” look started happening. Christmas decorators began putting strings of red, green and white lights along their roof lines and maybe outlining their doors with them. Sometimes they flashed hypnotically on and off, on and off, on and off.
Once I visited a woman who drove in our daughter’s carpool and remarked that she hadn’t put any up. “Didn’t you know that we’re Jewish?” she said.
I told her that I had just admired their good taste.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.