Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 1 – The Christmas Tree

Our Family Christmas Tree, circa 1976. Notice the tinsel.
I still have this chair.

Getting our Christmas tree was one of the holiday highlights for me. We always had live trees, usually about 6′-7′ tall. Or maybe they just seemed tall to me because I was smaller at the time.

In my younger years, I vaguely remember going out to a tree farm somewhere to get our trees. We would tramp around in the bitter southern California cold (ha!) until someone declared that he/she had found the perfect tree. The tree-cutter-person would cut down the tree for us, and we’d haul it home… probably in my father’s pick-up truck, but I don’t really remember. It was a looong time ago.

Once we got the tree home, my father would stand it up in a bucket of water in the garage, and meticulously pull out all the dead pine needles. He would give the trunk a fresh cut on the bottom, and then bring the tree inside.

Next were the lights. When those little “twinkle lights” came out, we all thought they were so beautiful. Unfortunately, putting them on the tree could be such a chore. Back in the day, if one, single light bulb was burned out, the entire strand refused to light. Dad would carefully unroll the lights, and we would all pray that they would light up when plugged in. But it never failed that at least one strand would have a bad bulb, and Dad would have to test each light with one of those light-tester-thingies to find the offender. Back in those days, if one bulb failed to work, the whole strand failed to work.

This could take hours.

Once the lights were on, we were finally free to add the decorations. I remember that there was a specific order in which the decorations should go on: the “balls” would go on first, with the large balls at the bottom of the tree, medium balls in the middle, and smaller balls towards the top. The “unique” decorations would go on next. These included various doo-dads I’d made in school, as well as some that my mother must have bought. I don’t actually know where they came from, but I still have many of them.

One of my school doo-dads. Even as a kid, I was not a talented crafter.

The finishing touch was always the tinsel. Back in the day, this was considered very stylish. I remember there being two types of tinsel: one was a plastic variety that would stretch when pulled, and flew off the tree every time anyone walked by. The other was a metallic sort, that stayed on the tree, but frequently fell apart in your hands. I preferred the plastic kind, even if it did fly off with the slightest breeze.

Actually, I hated tinsel, but it was going on the tree, whether I liked it or not.

There was a definite “technique” to applying tinsel. Like most kids, I suppose, I liked to grab a handful and throw. This method was, unfortunately, frowned upon by my mother (and most other adults). The “correct” method of applying tinsel was one strand at a time. ONE STRAND AT A TIME. One strand. At a time. One. Strand. At. A. Time.

It took FOREVER to cover a tree “correctly” with tinsel. But even I had to admit that it was kind of pretty – in a weird sort of way – once it was finished.

The final touch was the angel on top. She wore a gold, fuzzy dress and had a halo of lights behind her.

Our tree would go up well before Christmas and would stay up until at least New Year’s Day. After that, the decorations would come off, and the tree would mysteriously disappear. It was depressing.

The Christmas tree smell that filled our house was heavenly. I hated artificial trees and swore I’d never have one.

*   *   *
Our Christmas Tree, 2008 (2010 isn’t up yet).
No tinsel. The chair is in the next room.

Fast forward about 30 years. Ironically, my family now uses an artificial tree. We bought it the Christmas after my daughter was born, and strangely enough, I love it. It’s 9 feet tall, and very realistic-looking. It even has fake dead needles that we don’t have to meticulously pick out.

There were several reasons behind our decision to go artificial, but the main reason was allergies. I have them, and so does my daughter. No need to be miserable at Christmas if we don’t have to be. Plus, it came with all the lights on it already, eliminating a step that I never enjoyed much anyway.

Unfortunately, my husband HATES this tree, if only because he has to lug it out of the garage and put it together each year. Poor baby. He’s lucky that we don’t have to tramp around in a Christmas tree farm in the bitter southern California cold.

The ugly school doo-dad is still on our tree.
The gold bells and snowflakes were my grandmother’s.
 The red bows were made by my mother back in the ’70’s.

After my mother and grandmother passed away, I inherited nearly all the family Christmas ornaments. You will still find many of these on my tree each year. I have also collected ornaments of my own, most of which represent something that happened in our lives during the year (like “new home,” “baby’s 1st Christmas,” etc.). These serve as special reminders of our lives together.

The artificial tree doesn’t have that wonderful Christmas tree smell. But that’s what pine-scented air freshener is for, right?

*   *   *

This post is the first in the “2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories” series, and was originally posted on December 1, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit the official blog of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal

Elizabeth is a professional genealogist, writer, and consultant. Likes: long walks in the cemetery, and the smell of old courthouse books. Dislikes: people who copy stuff off the internet without giving credit, and county clerks who can't tell the difference between Eastern and Pacific time zones. Secretly hopes her daughter will one day develop an interest in family history (but no luck so far).

Search Military Records - Fold3


  1. So many of us have gone the way of artificial – it’s just so easy! And I love yours. We have the same theory of decorating. Anything goes as long as it makes us smile or reminds us of someone wonderful.

  2. LOL. When I was a kid there was an order to decorating too and we also had tinsel. My grandparents had *lead* tinsel – that stuff didn’t move (yea, it’s amazing we’re all not dead). The only thing worse then hang the tinsel One. Strand. At. A. Time? Taking it off – One. Strand. At. A. Time. (And putting it back in the container just so.

  3. Oh the doo-dads! We have so many of them….I’ve been trying to cull mother’s herd of them for years, but she will only let go if the thing has become so tattered that it threatens to come apart in your hands. You are so right about the ornaments telling stories! Many of ours are dated and purchased not only because of a life event (birth, etc.) but due to local/regional events. I’m tempted to take a brief inventory of the dated ones that contain a subject theme. Once the ornaments are gone, I would retain a small family timeline of events. Hmmmmm Great post!

  4. I hope we are going to do a ACCM post on doo-dads I got such a kick out of your recounting tinsel placement. Been there. But I am having a difficult time finding empathy with your tramping about in the cold California air … I know you understand. As always, E, a wonderful post and beautiful photography. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Wonderful post! I love your tree! It’s just beautiful.
    Do you remember the “Bewitched” Christmas episode where Samantha and Darren are decorating their tree and he keeps asking her for “some” tinsel and she keeps handing it to him, one piece at a time? This post reminded me of that episode.

  6. I had to laugh about the tinsel! Yes, I am a one-strand-at-a-time person, including when taking it off. Great post and great photos!

  7. My mother and I always enjoyed throwing handfuls of tinsel on the tree – and it was leftover from other years, added into a new batch, so it really did look terrible. But we enjoyed it.

    A lot of us seem to have had real trees as kids and now have artificial ones – for us it’s partly because we have cats. Additional, more secret reason: I hate trying to clean pine needles off the carpet!

    And your 2008 tree is absolutely incredible!

  8. I love the photo of 2008 Christmas tree.

  9. Uh, oh. I am a one-strand-at-a-time person. Or was – it leads to … an unpleasant phenomenon with the cats. But I do remember the strings of lights and the light testers. Now I can save most of my energy for putting a zillion ornaments on the tree. Loved your Christmas tree pictures.


Say Something?

Translate »
%d bloggers like this: