PEN&INKee^POSSIBILITIES: The significance of the Christmas tree

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By Kirsten Laskey

Decorating the Christmas tree has always been a major deal in my family. It’s one of the seasonal traditions that kicks off our Christmas celebration.

When I was growing up, as soon as the tree was set up and elaborately adorned with decorations, I felt it gave me permission to immerse completely in all the holiday hoopla.

I could sing carols, read holiday books or eagerly count down the days until Dec. 25 without any uncertainty that I was celebrating the holiday too early.

We made the whole process fun – from untangling and weaving lights between evergreen boughs to hanging bulbs from the branches’ tips. For years we played holiday tunes on the CD player and my mother served up a plate of cookies.

My father and sister were in charge of the lighting – the first thing on the decorating to-do list.

They wrestled with white and colored twinkle lights while my mother would squint and identify the areas that were bare of any lit sparkle.

With the tough electrical project out of the way, we moved on to the fun part, the decorating.

My father always hangs the angel, a memento from the early days of my parents’ marriage. She is decades old, but still maintains a sweet face and her gold gown has not faded through the years.

However, for as long as I can remember, her wings have been missing and after perching on several tall trees that forced her head to rub against the ceiling, a bald patch has formed on the back of her head.

The angel is not the only quirky holiday decoration on the family tree.  Within bunches of tissue paper that fill Rubbermaid boxes, are ornaments that hold special meaning.

My father owns a glass swan that my grandmother gave him and cries out in joy when he sees the chipmunk figurine sitting on a chocolate chip cookie.

My mother adores her light bulb Santa that she made as a child and the rest of us make fun of – claiming its flattened beard and dulled face are not exactly cute.

Despite the decorations that have stuck with us year after year, the look of the tree has evolved.

The tree started out as a freshly cut Evergreen. Once, we even hiked out into a snow- packed forest to chop down a tree.

On the ride home, I remember all of us craning our necks to look up through the car windows to make sure the tree didn’t slide  off the vehicle’s roof.

When my mother realized that real trees made her allergies explode, we moved onto artificial trees.

My sister even came up with a spoof on “Oh Christmas Tree” to mark our progression to trees that didn’t drop their needles.

With the silk trees came the silk bows. My mother used to make garland from popcorn and cranberries, but the dog would eat it. So she moved on to bows.

She and I scoured through stores looking for the right ribbon – even hiding a roll in the back of the shelf at a Michael’s store while we considered our options.

The tree went through a second evolution when my parents purchased a pre-lit artificial tree.

It was at this time that the traditional family decorating parties underwent a change. My sister has a family of her own to make new traditions involving the Christmas tree and I also have my own pre-light tree to decorate.

Some traditions, however, are too valuable for me to pass up, so I recently went over to my parents’ to help officially start the holidays.

When the work was finished, we did what we always do – dimmed the room’s lights and stepped back to admire our handiwork.

Seeing that tree with all its lights, bows and ornaments, I realized  while things change but others remain constant, such as the beauty of a Christmas tree and, the excitement of watching the magic of the holiday season get set into motion.