Oh, the wonderous Christmas tree. The tradition has been around for thousands of years, some giving credit to 16th century German Christians who brought decorated trees into their homes, others to pagans as well as Christians who decorated with fir tree branches as a sign of the coming spring. Whatever the reason, I like it. A lot!
Almost extinct is the tradition of going out into the fields and forests to cut one’s own Christmas tree. That tradition has probably lost its lustre do the fact that there are not as many rural landowners, or the increased protests by landowners when people just arbitrarily stop by (usually by the dark of night) and chop down their evergreen trees.
Some of my fondest memories are going out into the back fields of our farm with my dad and cutting down the family Christmas tree. First, the tree was always a cedar tree. They were more plentiful on our property than pine, and a cedar was the tree his family always selected. Often, the best cedar tree would come from the top of a much larger cedar tree, but it took a trained eye to spot the right one, and Dad seemed to have it.
I keenly remember the smell of the cedar, especially when it was first brought into the house. These days, many of us put up the tree weeks before Christmas Day. However, the cedar tree generally came into the Day household the week either just prior to, or the week of Christmas, due to the rapid drying of the tree which could create a fire hazard.
One special year that rises to the top of my Christmas tree harvest memories was a year when my sister Karen headed up the search. She was accompanied by her brothers, John and I, who quickly became her slaves and pack mules. We lost more than half of our tree crop as she would select the perfect one, which never met her approval after we had cut it down.
“It looks different on the ground,” she would complain. Yeah, right.
So often, the perfect Christmas tree looked exactly like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree when it was first brought into the house. One thing you might not understand if you never had a cedar tree is that no matter how you try, it never appears to be level. But once the huge Christmas light bulbs were wrapped around and around the tree, and we began adorning it with our home-made paper chains we learned to color and paste together, it was a sight fit for the Whitehouse.
I can still see Mom tossing the ice cicles on the tree with amazing precision and accuracy, and they seemed to fall perfectly into symmetric location. I was in awe. Then, tinsel roping would wrap round and round the tree giving it that special sparkle. Mom would usually place a white sheet under the tree for skirting, as she said it looked like snow. And, it kind of did. It was perfect.
The best of the best Christmas tree I remember was placed in the picture window of our neighbors. Each year, Esther and Ora Walker would put up a silver tinsel tree and adorn it with the most gorgeous shiny ornaments, and then place a lighted color wheel beneath it. My sister, brother and I would sit for hours watching it from across the field. It was so beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that a few years ago my wife Patty and I, by way of the help of a friend (Joe Mahan), found one of the original silver tinsel trees in a nearby town and purchased it. It is about two years older than I am, looks so much better than I do, and we put it up every year.
Life has a way of making changes in our lives and pulling us away from the traditions and the feelings that came along with those traditions. I am happy to say that as life has progressed, much of that joy has returned. Of course, what makes it more special is knowing that while all these traditions are fun, Jesus is the real reason for the season, and He spent much of His ministry speaking about joy. The kind of joy He wants us all to have through Him. Merry Christmas.
P.S. Come join us for Willard Parr’s retirement reception this Thursday, Dec. 6, from 5-7 p.m. at Southside Praise & Worship Center, 621 Southeast St., Hillsboro. There will be light refreshments, finger foods, and lots of stories covering his 62 years of radio excellence in southern Ohio.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. He can be heard Tuesday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon on 88.7 WOBO-FM and can be reached at [email protected]