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Oh Tannenbaum!

  As it has been for the last several years, our tree this year is a 10 foot Nordmann fir that came in from Oregon. Over the last few years, Nordmann firs have become our favorite because they have softer needles and resist shedding as the tree dries — a real plus in the hot, dry climate of Texas even in December. We got it up a little earlier this year, since our local nursery only gets a limited shipment of taller, unique variety trees, and because a run on real trees in this pandemic year was being predicted (and has, in fact, occurred). Anyway, it is a beautiful tree, full and perfectly shaped, though our son had to haul it home for us in his Ford F150 and help us set it up. 

     I am one of those rare people who has had a real, live Christmas tree every year of my life, no matter where I lived. Not to say that they have all been as beautiful and regal and this one, but still… When I was a girl, our tree was always purchased from the local Optimist Club lot set up downtown. A dear family friend worked that sale every year, and he would set aside a nice tree for my Mother and me and then help us get it secured into the trunk of the car. (The tree was never that large, maybe 5 feet or so, but remember that cars were big and trunks were roomy back in those days).

     I look at old photographs of Christmases growing up with those scrawny, wobbly trees decked out in multi-colored bubble lights, various kinds of glass ornaments, and wads of silver tinsel, and I have to laugh. Somehow, the tree was always leaning sideways — maybe because my Mother usually didn’t get the tree into the stand too securely, so she’d tie it to the wall with string. But no matter. That tree with its mishmash of colors and assorted decorations seemed magical, even as I got older, and it gave rise to our enduring tradition to “sit and enjoy the tree” with some hot chocolate, or something stronger.

     When my husband and I were first married and living in New York, we too bought a real tree from a civic group lot, but we chose a bigger, fuller Balsam. We (he) would tie the tree to the roof of our car and then, when we got to our building, the two of us would haul it upstairs to our apartment from the parking lot. We had no ornaments or decorations, of course, so we started from scratch shopping at a nursery that featured fabulous holiday displays. For some reason, we went with a pink-and-white sugarplum theme, along with tiny pink lights. By the time we left five years later, we had accumulated quite a collection, and so continued to decorate our main tree, and then eventually a second tree in larger houses, with all the sugarplum stuff. (I only finally gave up those bins of pink sugarplums, along with the idea of a full-size second tree, when we moved here about 10 years ago.) 

     Ah, but it was those 30 plus years living in Connecticut where our Christmas tree expertise and our New England winter style really evolved. In Stamford, our living room had a high, vaulted ceiling which easily accommodated 14+ foot tree, and we discovered tree farms where you could cut your own fresh tree. Our yearly sojourn became the Jones Family Tree Farms up-county in Shelton, CT.  Never mind that in the middle of December in Connecticut, with the wind and the cold and the snowy sleet, even the hot chocolate served up in the Homestead Barn wasn’t enough to warm the chill; we were determined to live the Norman Rockwell picture-perfect Christmas.

     At the Jones Farm  we were introduced to varieties of trees we had never encountered beyond just the Balsam. There were Frasers, Douglas, White Pine, and of course, the king of them all, the Blue Spruce. Initially, we opted for the magnificent Blue Spruce, with the slightly blue/grey color and the strong boughs that hold large ornaments comfortably. These trees are extremely heavy and the calibre of their trunks are quite large. We had Blue Spruce for quite a number of years until we could no longer lift them and could no longer abide the prickly nature of their needles. Then we switched to Frasier firs, lighter in weight and easier to handle.

     It was during these years when my Martha Stewart kicked in and that we went to a pheasant theme with bronze-brown accents. Large Martha glass ornaments, pheasant feathers, and bronze spiral drops became our dominant theme, and I even hand-painted the little white lights bronze and rust. (I was into glass painting at the time. ) You can’t really tell this on the photo above, but believe this compulsive person, those lights are painted!

     We discovered Nordmann firs here in San Antonio and, once again, we have a high ceiling which can accommodate a tall tree. Everything was fine until about five years ago when we got the tree stuck in the doorway and had to call a neighbor to help us get it in and up. Since we are still putting up a tall tree, we have had to enlist the help of our son. He doesn’t mind, bless him, but the time may be coming, as it did with the sugarplum  decorations and a second indoor tree, to say “Enough.”      

       So, while we have had a real tree all these years, my husband and I began to seriously discuss investing in a high quality artificial tree this year. But then we dithered about, ordered some sample branches of trees we were considering (which still haven’t arrived), and then decided that maybe we would go on and enlist our son’s help and struggle with a large live tree one last year. Now that it’s up, I’m glad we did. We can “sit and enjoy the tree” one more time and postpone the inevitable one more year.


  1. Diane Thiel

    Your tree is beautiful! I gave up a real tree 5 years ago. I’ve never had a “theme” tree but just a collection of ornaments since 1968, gathered as my children grew and have traveled collecting along the way. But my tree topper is my treasure. A beautiful Angel that I look at hoping there are angels in the world protecting those with no tree, and worse, in this spirit destroying time, no home. As I look at our Christmas tree we are so fortunate to enjoy, my eye goes to the Angel, with a prayer.


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