Monday, 3 December 2012
Memories of the tree . . .
December is the month of the longest night and the shortest day. She wraps herself in a ragged coat of sombre grey, as the dreary months of winter descend upon us. We may not want to welcome Winter . . . but our hearts fill with joy because December is also the month of the greatest gift ever given to mankind. It is the month we choose to celebrate the birth of a King, and from the cold grip of it's wintery hand . . . we take this most wonderful prize, which crowns the ending of the year . . . that glorious Christmas Miracle.
One of the things I have always loved doing in the month of December is to walk through the neighborhood and take in all of the Christmas lights. It was the same when I was a girl . . . and it matters not where I have lived. There are always beautiful lights to take in, and the darkness and dreariness of this month only serve to make them all the more beautiful.
Some people go wild with lights . . . festooning every nook and cranny with twinkling lights of seemingly a thousand colours . . . but which is only really three or four. Blow up Santas and snowmen . . . like big puffed balloons saying . . . "Look at me! Look at me!" And we . . . look. Others only have a few . . . a token string of two, perhaps coloured or perhaps white strung around their windows that face out onto the street, beautiful too in their understated simplicity.
My childhood Decembers were ablaze with Christmas lights . . . there was always one house in the neighborhood which inspired people from miles around to come and have a look. In the small town near where I spent most of my childhood, it was the old Eisner house, next to the Eisner's restaurant on main street. A dark and imposing house in the day time (it was almost painted black), in December it came alive with every angle and corner of it's walls and roof being lined with tiny white lights, most spectacular to witness . . . and there would be carols playing nonstop as well, over a sound system, which served up pure delight to the soul. I don't know what it must have been like living next door to it . . . it was probably most annoying after a time to the closest neighbors, but . . . to those of us who travelled a distance to see it, it was spectacular and wonderful and most magical!
Long about mid-December my father would bring home a Christmas tree . . . fat and green and smelling of the deep woods . . . of sap and pine . . . the smell of Christmas. It sat outside for a few days. You could do that back then. Nobody would steal it . . . funny how the world has changed. Now it would probably be gone within the hour . . . but back then, twas a different world for sure. When it finally did come into the house it would be with great pomp and ceremony. My mother would have laid old sheets down onto the floor so that it could be brought to it's final resting place without creating too much of a mess. Inevitably it would always need a bit cut off the trunk . . .
Ahhh . . . even more of that deep woodsy smell. ☺
We had an old metal tree stand which consisted of a metal bowl with three curved metal legs, with what seemed like huge bolts which screwed into the base of the tree and held it upright. Red and green it was . . . the bowl holding the water which would help to keep the tree fresh and hopefully prevent any risk of fire. It was important to water the tree daily. It probably sat upright in that bowl for another few days before it was decorated . . . so that the branches would settle and fall into their rightful places in the warmth of the house . . . each walk past its seemingly majestic glory tempting small fingers to touch and caress it's prickly green needles, made only more tempting by having been forbidden.
My father always had the job of putting on the lights, and every year it seemed to be the same daunting struggle for him. It didn't seem to matter how much care had been given over to storing them the year before, they were always inevitably tangled and untangling them was a chore which always created a certain amount of tension, only slightly less than the tension brought on by the inevitable burnt out light which meant that none of them worked. Each light would then have to be tested to see which was the naughty culprit. The three of us would sit on the sofa watching this all with great anticipation . . . just close enough that we had a wonderful view of all the goings on . . . but far enough away that we would not add to the frustration and tension of this exercise. There were always great shouts of glee as finally the lights all lit up . . . and all the fury of the moments just before would slip away, melting into oblivion for another year.
My father also strung all of the lights onto the tree. That was his job. I don't know if he liked doing it or not. I have never asked him . . . I think I will call him one afternoon this week and talk about the tree and see what his memories of it might be. I only know for sure that, as a child, there was no more magnificent sight on earth than that Christmas tree standing in the corner of the living room, all lit up and waiting for the decorations to be put on.
Out of the big decoration box would come smaller boxes, each one filled with a multitude of tissue wrapped coloured glass baubles . . . pink and turquoise, red and green, silver and gold . . . some plain, some frosted, some painted with glittery snowflakes and trees We were never allowed to touch these for fear that we might break them. I loved to look at them . . . my reflection staring back at me, warped and resplendent in their glow. Then too there were small glass birds with bristle tails that were clipped onto the branches . . . here and there all over the tree . . . and my favourite decoration of all . . . what looked like small pie tins, filled with little red and white spotted toadstools and green pine branches.
I am sure that is what began this great love affair I have with red and white spotted toadstools. I gave those toadstools many a loving and forbidden caress during all of my growing up years and I am sure that they are still tucked away in a box somewhere down in my mother's basement . . . I recreated them for myself when my own children were small, using little foil tart tins I bought at the grocery store and green felt, as well as little red and white toadstools I found in a craft shop. What lovely memories they stirred for me in my heart as I lovingly put them together.
There was no such thing as a themed tree in my childhood . . . only a Christmas Tree, which held a thousand memories of childhood joy and glee. We haven't put up a large tree at all over these past few years as the space in our home is truly limited and there really isn't much room for one. If we had children about it would be a different story, but we don't and so . . . I do a small table top tree. It's not quite the same, but . . . at least it is something. Somehow having children around makes the holidays that little bit more magical I think . . . maybe this year someone will lend us some.
A thought to carry you through the day . . .
"It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart."
~ Marjorie Holmes, American writer.
There are Stilton Burgers cooking in The English Kitchen today!