Christmas Trees

by J Pinsent

At the reunion in 2005, Roland Clarke, in his address to the closing banquet, related some humorous stories of his past as Principal of HMA/GA. One being about a bunch of boys going out to cut a Christmas tree, didn’t return in a prescribed period of time and a search party had to be sent out to ensure their safety was secure. I smiled to myself as he spoke. I had completely forgotten about that incident. Roland didn’t disclose the culprits who created that excitable situation but I knew who they were. Well, at least some of them. Of course myself being one of them. Roy Rideout was also one, I think Willie Taylor was another and the fourth I cannot remember. Maybe Gene Simms.

It was a plan a bunch of us 10/11 year olds came up with as a way to escape from the classroom on a winter’s afternoon and also to try and enact what are parents did each Christmas, to go cut a Christmas tree. We told our teacher of our plan on how us boys could cut  a tree for the classroom. After a lot of persuasion  she gave us permission to take time off from school to cut a tree. We thought it would be an easy chore so to ensure we wouldn’t get back too early we went down past the Army Side to make sure we wouldn’t. We did get a tree. Much bigger and a lot more difficult than we imagined. It was getting dark by the time we were met by a bunch of men looking for us. Just walking up the road, dragging this humungous tree behind us. Like we told them. We weren’t lost, we knew where we were. Just a little late getting back that was all. Looking back at it now I can understand their concerns and I’m sure our teacher took responsibility for the situation.

It was a ritual. Every year just prior to Christmas our parents would go out and cut the Christmas tree. When I say parents, I mean the fathers cut the tree and our mothers gave their approval whether or not it was acceptable to be erected in their living rooms. Most of our parents were from out ports where trees were not very pretty, having to endure those ghastly north east winds along the coast. Maybe that’s why some of those old pictures showed some pretty horrible looking Christmas trees compared to the artificial ones we are accustomed with today.

 A few prerequisites. It had to be a fir tree and it had to have a shape similar to trees as seen in magazines. Maybe a branch would have to be added with the correct skills and if tools were available. To us kids those trees, when decorated, would prove to be beautiful.

 The tree would be put aside to await the day of the grand entrance. There were some preparations for the event. First it was cut to an appropriate height. Then a tree stand had to be made. Generally it was two pieces of board. nailed together in the form of an ‘X’ and then fastened with a big 4 inch nail, to the bottom of the tree. A couple of nails would later be driven into the walls to anchor supporting wire/string to prevent the tree from tipping over on it’s makeshift stand. Not like the tree stands of today where there would be a water receptacle to prevent the tree from drying. No sir, that tree had a life span measured in hours before it started to drop its needles once it encountered the heat of the living room.

 The decorations would also be prepared to inspect for light bulb outages. One bulb goes out, they all go out. Replacement bulbs would be bought but not too many. Didn’t want to waste any money here. Then it was checking to see if there were enough tinfoil icicles left over from last year. For some reason those icicles were never in any great quantity at the store. Maybe because everyone saved them the year before and there was never a great demand for new ones. The glass ornaments were packed away with great care from the year before and would be opened for inspection. Plastic ones were not very popular or available. It seemed as if there were always a broken ornament and that would bring out a complaint from mom about someone being careless and how valuable they were. The garland would also be unwound to check for breaks and joined if necessary. The garland was limited and sometime supplemented by red and green crepe ribbon paper. Later I read about how some would make garland from cranberries or popcorn. Never did that. A waste of good food some would say. Not that popcorn could be classed as good food.

 As far as I was concerned, I wanted the tree to go up right then and there, but no, we had to wait till Christmas arrived. Back then Christmas arrived on Christmas eve and that was when the tree would go up. Some years, because of circumstances in the planning of social events, the tree was put up a day or two before Christmas eve. Then the decorating would take place.

 Dad’s job was first securing the tree in an earth quake proof fashion, lashing it tightly to the wall . It was also his responsibility to put on the lights and give the final lighting test. The remaining decorating was left to mom and us kids. When we finished with using all of the ornaments, garland and icicles, the blank areas would be filled in with hanging Christmas cards or bows made from satin ribbon. Then the tree would be lit. Most times there would be one string of lights that wouldn’t turn on. My dad would sputter about how we decorated the tree without due care and that we must have loosened or damaged one of the bulbs. Then he would go to the process of removing each bulb and testing it. After what we would consider an eternity, he would find the troublesome bulb and the tree would be completely lit. A sight to behold. Mom would say, “It is a lot nicer than last years tree”. And we would all agree.

 The lights were never left on for very long. For several reasons. Drying out the tree,  might cause a fire and burning extra “juice”, as dad would say. When ever we would have a visitor during Christmas, the lights would be turned on. Once the appropriate compliments were made by the visitor, they would be turned off. It was a rule that you always gave a favorable compliment about your host’s tree. I can remember saying to my mother after leaving a neighbor’s home. “Mom, that tree wasn’t very nice”. She would say “Hush! It’s not very nice to say that” and smile at me in agreement.

 The odor of the evergreen tree would be permeating throughout our house as the needles fell from a drying tree, for the twelve days of Christmas. It was on that day, always referred to as Old Christmas day, the tree would come down and set outside for the garbage truck. The decoration would be packed and put away for another year. And mom would say to dad, “ maybe next year we should get some new decorations”.


 Morley & I