Christmas Tree Memories: The Homemade Tree

homemade Christmas tree ornaments: string of popcorn with cranberries

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By Suzanne Waring

My family moved to a farm from the city when I was 5 years old. This was two years before the Rural Electric Association (REA) brought electricity to our rural area, so we were still using kerosene lamps. Mid-December rolled around that year, and I was old enough to be excited about Christmas, but no one else seemed to be talking about or decorating for the coming holiday.

One evening I heard my dad make quite a racket as he came up the stairs on his arrival home from work. Mother opened the door, and a gust of cold, evergreen-scented air rushed in. Dad was half dragging and half carrying an evergreen tree.

“Been eyeing this tree growing along the fence line for a long time,” he said between gasps for breath.

He left the tree lying on the floor, went back out the door, and thumped down the stairs. My little sister and I fingered the red cedar tree, but the needles were prickly and hurt to touch. This “free” evergreen tree was different from the fir trees city dwellers purchased at Christmas tree lots.

When our dad came back in, he had a saw, hammer, nails, and several boards. He quickly made a stand for the tree, but it was too tall, so he cut away some of the trunk, and then it was just right. He stood it up in the corner of the living room.

I wanted to start decorating the tree right then, but Mother said, “We’ll start decorating tomorrow,” which was a similar comment to almost anything I was excited about doing. I could hardly wait to see it decorated like the trees in the windows of homes we passed when we went into town to do grocery shopping.

The next day Mother had me string cranberries by threading them onto a double thread with a needle. She also made popcorn, but I had trouble stringing it because the popcorn would crumble under the handling of my unpracticed fingers, so she did that between taking care of my two younger siblings. This decorating process was too slow as far as I was concerned. The tree continued to stand naked in the corner of the living room.

Several days later when strings of cranberries and popcorn were finished, we baked sugar cookies of mainly stars and circles. Mother didn’t have cookie cutters but instead drew a design on a piece of paper and then cut out the dough around the paper pattern.

After the cookies had cooled, we hung them on the tree by threading a string through a small hole Mother had made before the cookies had baked. Then we roped the cranberries and popcorn strings around the tree. Last my mother brought out a box of new tinsel. It must have been an extra that she had purchased when we lived in the city.

I was too impatient to hang the tinsel the way she wanted, so I watched her hang each strand individually. The tinsel on the tree made me think of icicles I had seen dangling from trees. All of a sudden the tree corresponded with what my imagination of a Christmas tree should look like.

Finally, Mother wrapped several of my baby brother’s white flannel receiving blankets around the bottom and said, “Maybe Santa will put some gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve for the ‘good’ children who live in this house.”

That night the tinsel reflected what light we had from the kerosene lamps. Watching the shiny tinsel flutter in the air, I was happy with our Christmas tree and excited about Santa visiting our farm home.

Christmas trees that stood in our living room in subsequent years seem to blend together for me now. They were purchased at Christmas tree lots and had many shiny baubles, ropes of sparkling garland, and lots of colorful Christmas lights, but the most distinct Christmas tree in my memory was the one that had no lights or bright Christmas balls but was decorated with homemade objects and covered with shimmering tinsel. ISI

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