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Rockefeller Center Tree with silver and gold flags

Photo by Julie Seyler.

It’s hard to deny the joy of a Christmas tree. Of course, they smell great, and they can be dressed up, or not. But they also often reflect individual personalities, and provoke memories.

Read on:


Lois: There’s been news lately about how plant pathologists and Christmas tree farmers are working on building a better Christmas tree, including, ” … how to cultivate a tree that will last from Thanksgiving until after New Year’s.” I will be first in line if this super tree, with super “needle-retention,” hits my local tree farm. Growing up, our family tradition was to live with our spruce for one day. One day! We bought it, put it up and decorated it on Christmas Eve, and it was kicked to the curb by December 26. I was always sad to see the tree go. I wanted it to be a permanent part of our living room. So ever since I’ve had my own living room, and have been in charge of my own tree – my tradition became: put it up before December 1, and leave it up at least until my birthday – January 9th. Who cares that the evergreen is no longer (its needles become trimmed in brown), and the crashing of falling ornaments and lights is a daily post-Christmas sound in my house. This year, I want to leave it up until spring, when my youngest son will be coming home from studying in England. I want him to come home to Christmas. I want his presents to be under a tree. Maybe by March, I may have to move it outside for a bit (or maybe I can figure out how to rig that “IV drip,” that those plant pathologists have been contemplating as a possibility for tree longevity), but this year, my tree will somehow jingle all the way to May.

a 1968 Christmas
Julie: I am Jewish – not quite religious – but it is my heritage and identity. When I was about six years old, in 1961, my mother, a 31-year-old divorcee, was dating Ed. He later became her husband. But this story took place during their dating days. He could not believe she was not going to put up a Christmas tree for her two daughters. She, on the other hand, could not bear the thought of having a Christmas tree in her home. I mean, really, it went against her whole upbringing, and what would her mother think? But on this particular occasion, he won the battle by promising he would purchase and deliver a tree without any participation on her part. And he did.

At 7:00 on Christmas Eve he dramatically threw a tree in the front door of our garden apartment in Red Bank, New Jersey and proclaimed: “Here’s your d__ tree.” Now Ed never ever cursed, but the tree had fallen off the roof of his yellow Vauxhall on Route 35 in the middle of rush-hour traffic, and he wanted my mother to know the ordeal he had gone through for her and her kids. My sister and I really didn’t care because we had our tree, and we thought it was beautiful. We set out cookies for Santa, hung up socks as stockings, and went to bed (not really believing that Santa would visit). About 4 a.m., we woke up, and lo and behold, the cookies were gone, the stockings were full, and there were all these presents under the tree. We opened the biggest. It was a Barbie Doll Dream House! We ran in to wake my mother, who had only gone to bed two hours before because she was getting everything ready. But she had to get up; she had to assemble that dream house right now!!! So with bleary eyes, she did our bidding and such is how that memory, from 51 years ago, is set in my mind.

christmas tree bob

Bob: Dad would always buy a Christmas tree from Uncle Gus, who owned a garden center, because he gave him a great price. He would put it up in the corner of our living room, perched in a rickety metal stand with three green metal legs and a red hemispherical pan. I couldn’t decide whether it looked more like a flying saucer from a cheesy science fiction movie or a World War I doughboy helmet.

We loaded it with ornaments and strands of lights with heavy glass bulbs that screwed into brown plastic sockets – gigantic, clunky things compared to today’s plastic pop-in bulbs. The tinsel wasn’t strung on garlands, either – it was individual metallic strands that we carefully draped over each bough.

When it was all done, I would lie on my back underneath the tree so that my entire field of vision was filled with branches, tinsel, and blinking lights. One string of lights was a train with an old-fashioned steam locomotive, its tender piled high with painted coal, and a cheerful red caboose chugging off into the forest above my head. I would close my eyes, and bask in the warm piney smell and the energy of the splendor inches above me, and it would feel like Christmas.

frank xmas

Frank: All through my childhood, my parents had a small artificial Christmas tree that they put on a table. Santa put our presents under the table. Then, when I was 14, our artificial Christmas tree went up for what would be the last time. A week after Christmas, my father died. The artificial tree was still up, of course, and many of the horrible memories of my father’s death and the aftermath had that Christmas tree in the background. So it was not a difficult decision for my mother to throw out the tree soon afterward. The next Christmas we got our first real Christmas tree. It was a gorgeous blue spruce, whose top scraped the ceiling in our living room. I can still remember the beautiful smell. It was all totally new to our house. It was fresh and alive, just like we were. My mother, brother and I had a wonderful time picking it out, setting it up and even tending to the water in the base. It was a terrific Christmas. And then, a few days after after Christmas, our cat Willy, for whom the tree was as new as it was for us, could no longer contain himself. He climbed the tree right to the top and it promptly tipped over. Instead of being angry, we simply laughed at the startled tabby. And we had real Christmas trees every year after that.