Christmas isn't quite Christmas until the house is fitted and adorned with the Christmas tree; that ordinary evergreen transformed with tinsel, lights and ornaments into an extraordinary celebration.
As far back as my life goes, we have had a 'real' tree. The trees of my childhood were cedars from our pasture wrapped with strands of large blinking bulbs. Ornaments were scarce, but each one special; glittery manger scenes, glass orbs with sparkled pictures, a home-made modge-podge made at home and school, and always, the little felt snowman stitched with hat and scarf from my kindergarten teacher. Sticky icicles fell upon each branch, catching the light and turning into little mirrors with the fall of night.
The smell of cedar filled our house, mixing with baking sugar cookies and peanut brittle, and though money was tight, there were always gifts. My mother had an account in the Christmas Club at our little bank and would put $5 in it here and there so at the end of the year there would be enough to make our Christmas special. Many times there were hand-made gifts and once in awhile, a much dreamed-about doll or special toy. Either way, it was always perfect.
In the 1960's and 70's when I was growing up, there were no "themed trees"; no certain colors or specialty items placed carefully by adults only. Ours was an interactive tree decorated by six pairs of little hands, sometimes filling branches beyond their capacity, but always with love and laughter. We didn't care if the tree was a bit misformed or lopsided, and finding the "good side" to face out into the living room while squelching the sparce side against the window was always a challenge!
As the years passed by and I grew and changed, the Christmas tree remained constant; sometimes picked from a tree lot, or cut at a tree farm, but always 'real'. It was a joyful comfort to come home during my college years to that familiar smell of evergreen and Mother's baking.
My children's own Christmas memories are filled with the live Christmas tree. In the early years we would traipse out into the pasture land we owned near the Nebraska/Kansas border and select the perfect tree for our home. No ornament was too sacred for little hands and as a result, my daughter and son learned to respect and handle with care both the trimmings and the tree itself.
As they grew older, we began purchasing our tree from a charity in our hometown. The anticipation was always great as we fought with the tree stand then coaxed it in the front door. And there it would stand; a fresh palette awaiting the artistic touch of a child's masterpiece.
This year in homage to our past, we once again returned to the pasture and cut a cedar for our beloved Christmas tree. For most farmers they are a nuisance scattered across their fields and land, but for us they are our symbol of hope and beauty at this glorious time of year. Scattered needles across the carpeting and constant watering have always been a small price to pay for its wonderful aroma and splendor.
Someday we will probably purchase an artificial tree. I have seen beautiful ones grace homes with magnificent height and perfection. And often they outdo their live counterparts in their visual flare. But for now and for today I will revel in the scent of natural cedar as I watch the twinkling lights and remember precious moments reflected in their ornamented boughs.
"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree"........
How beautiful, indeed.