I don't think there is a more iconic symbol of the holidays than the Christmas tree. In fact, one of my favorite decorations is a little ceramic tree I made for my mother when I was about 12 years old. It was quite a project, too. I spent a month painting and glazing it, with the final procedure of gluing tiny plastic bulbs in its branches and rigging up a cord and light bulb in its interior. For many years its cheery glow occupied a special spot in our home.
But that little tree was not the only one in our house back then. While I was growing up our family always had a live tree and as a tot I can remember visiting the local lot that was manned by a Boy Scout troop. Then, when I was in grade school, a tree farm opened near our house, where customers could cut down their own specimens, and we looked forward to that outing for weeks.
After we got our prize home, it was Dad's job to get it into a stand; and then set it up inside. This was not a chore he relished. In fact, I can say with all honesty the entire process of the Christmas tree set up was a job he hated. There was some cursing involved as he wrangled it into the stand; and then, as he lay under the tree, cranking on the giant screws that secured the pine to the base, we would stand aside and inform him if the tree was straight. Many years our trees were slightly atilt, but that mattered little to us. The glory, and smell, of a live tree was always welcome.
As we kids grew into teenagers, the idea of tramping through the cold and snow to cut down a tree paled. I remember with distinct clarity the year my mother gave my brother and me the money to go cut down a Frasier fir (her favorite pine) at the tree farm. On the way there, we decided we could save ourselves a lot of trouble by just purchasing one from a local lot.
Since the Frasier fir was a somewhat rare specimen back in those days, we were unsure whether we would find one. But we lucked out and at the first lot we drove to, a man showed us a tall specimen wrapped up with baling twine. We saw no need for him to undo the string and we stuffed it into the trunk and headed home.
We felt pretty smug about the whole affair, and watched with smirking smiles as Dad cut off the twine. The tree burst open with an alarming shower of cascading needles. And I mean a lot.
Nonetheless, it was set up in the family room like usual and as the days went by, the thing continued to lose its green hue. In fact, you just had to pass it, or breathe on it, and the needles would sprinkle down in a cascading shower. "I've never seen a fresh cut tree drop its needles like this," Mom remarked ever so frequently throughout the holiday season.
Of course, my brother and I would stare straight ahead when she said this, never daring to catch each other's eye. We knew if we did, our secret would be evident in our guilty glances.
By the time Christmas Eve arrived, the thing was pretty much bare of needles. Pathetic would describe it best. In fact, the day after Christmas in was unceremoniously taken down and thrown out behind the barn.
We did reveal our trickery many years later and that revelation caused some terse words from Mom, although there was a hint of laughter in her voice as she chewed us out.
I was remembering that incident with a smile a few days ago when I was unpacking the little ceramic tree I made for my mother so many years ago. She gave it to me the Christmas before she died of cancer. "I want you to have this," she said. "It has always been one of my favorite decorations."
Like then, it now gives off a soft glow in the darkness of my living room and its shiny green glaze reflects the colors of the tiny bulbs. While it brings a cheery countenance to the holiday season, I often look at it with a little sadness too, simply because it did bring so much joy to my mother, who I miss so much.
These days, this little ceramic tree is enough-I don't put up a live one anymore. But I do make a batch of cinnamon tree ornaments every year to give away and to hang throughout my house because their aroma is so intoxicating. I've included that recipe for this week.
Holiday traditions bring back many memories, but for me there are plenty surrounding the Christmas tree. And I've learned it doesn't matter what shape or form; live, ceramic or otherwise. It's the tradition that counts.
Cinnamon Tree Ornaments
1 cup applesauce
1 (4 oz.) container of cinnamon
Mix applesauce and cinnamon together to form a stiff dough. Roll out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutter into shapes. Make a hole for a ribbon. Carefully place on a rack to dry. Let air dry several days, turning occasionally. Or they can be baked at 150 degrees for five to six hours. (Note: These are not for eating.)
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