Friday, November 27, 2015

An Oral (Well, Written) History of Christmas Decorating


Doug: Happy day-after Thanksgiving, friends -- or as some say, Black Friday. Meh...

Doug: Yesterday our well wishes featured a few comments about decorating for the holidays. Among others, Humanbelly suggested --

HB: Hmmmmm-- is our topic range expansive enough to touch on some sort of discussion of holiday decorating? Perhaps from the perspective of childhood memories vs. current things folks do? I kind of like the fact that we have a sizable international contingent to weigh in on something like that. . . 

Doug: Why, yes -- our topic range is! So there's your prompt for conversation today (and maybe into the weekend). One thing I recall about my youth was that we always had a real tree. However, it wasn't too long into my marriage that my wife and I decided that we both found that to be a hassle and have had artificial trees for the past 20+ years. It's just so much easier to leave the lights on them and with just a bit of bending and twisting we're ready to go the next year. We really only decorate our porch as far as outside goes -- we did lights on our shrubbery for a few years, but rabbits chewed through the wires. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I've pictured a "family heirloom" that's now come to my house from my mom's. Yes, that's a Coca-Cola Santa Claus. We have had that on display at Christmas time for as long as I can remember, and I love it. When my mom gave it to me a few years ago my sons thought it was a bit creepy. So now we playfully refer to him as "Chucky Claus". Sort of took the luster off of it for me, but what the heck.

Doug: OK, enough about me -- let's hear from you now.



UPDATE: Late today HB sent us a few photographs from his weekend decorating. If you've not been to the comments section, these photos accompany his comment from 8:45 pm.

UPDATE #2: Overnight (to me anyway), Edo Bosnar sent a few photos of the city of Zagreb to reinforce a comment he left in today's post. Thanks, Edo!




29 comments:

david_b said...

Blessings and Greetings from Milwaukee. Just spending my Thanksgiving with my 'soon-to-be' new in-laws, actually trying to forget that humiliating Packers defeat against 'Da Bears' last evening. Too funny.

As for decorating, I spent 17yrs helping out at a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm (shaking trees, cutting 'em, hauling 'em, you name it..), so finally purchased a pre-lit fake tree last year, can't wait to put it up in my new home.

As for growing up, I have a gem picture of my older brother and I (circa 1970) that shows my xmas glee and his annoyance in sitting in front of a tree with his younger sibling. Toooo funny, will link from my FB photos.

We were pretty straight-forward in our decorating growing up, not too much outside, but the normal decorated tree and tidings inside. Just how the light would get all twisted and knotted up between take-down and the following year's redecorating is beyond me. In my 30s, I had to have my nice Trek ornaments, especially the few that lit up and talked (who didn't love that Leonard Nimoy Trek Galileo shuttle, where you heard his voice..). Sadly today's lights don't support those older connections, but you're lucky to find lightsets that still do.

Back to work (yes, today..), but more later, waiting on everyone's comments. :)

Graham said...

We always had a real tree when I was growing up. We would just go find one. Some of my dad's friends had property and told us to feel free to find one if we could. As you said, they could be quite a hassle to deal with, having to worry about leaving lights on, watering the tree and the needles falling everywhere. Later on, I ended up being allergic to those trees, so I would break out on my arms and face after having to manhandle it into the house. I remember those "icicles" that we used to hang on them, too. We moved into a house with central heat when I was nine or ten and I remember if you tried to touch the icicles (or just happened to walk close to them), they would shock you. I always wanted one of those aluminum trees with the color wheel, but that never worked out. My mom still has some of the ornaments that we used (one of which is a Santa Kiddle.....don't know if anyone here would remember those) and it's kind of neat to go back and see them when we visit.

Since we married and had kids, we've had artificial trees. Our kids would make Christmas ornaments in school and most of the time, that's what we decorate with mostly. One of the cooler ornaments we've had with them is a pickle ornament. There was a German story that said (I think) that you would have good fortune if you found the pickle ornament in the tree, so we would move it around on the tree and the kids would try to find it. I can still remember my youngest saying excitedly, "I see the pinkle! I see the pinkle."

We still decorate outside with lighted garland and the reindeer and such, but since my kids have grown up, it's not as much fun to do, mainly because I'm out there doing it by myself and they're in the house watching TV or playing on their laptops. :)

Lots of nice memories involved with decorating. Nowadays it just gets so busy that we don't put as much effort into it as we used to.

Redartz said...

Doug- cool Coke Santa, although his facial expression is a bit unsettling...

Graham- those silver aluminum trees with the color wheel were a great little feature of the holidays! We never had one, but my Great-Grandmother did, and each Christmas when we would visit her I'd sit and just watch that color wheel turn, and the corresponding shifts in the lighting. No doubt the adults appreciated that it kept some of us kids occupied for a few.

Growing up, we sometimes had live trees, but usually artificial. Will always remember the image of Dad fighting with branches and light strings. Of course, now that curse falls on my head. We usually go artificial, and have a simple tree that has all branches attached; they just fold down. So, all you have to do is raise them into place and shape it a bit. Of course, the lights are always a challenge (like the ones I hung along the roof yesterday). Ornaments- we have a very eclectic array: some antique ones, some handmade by our (now grown) kids , and some more recent collectible types. Of the latter, my favorites are : Spiderman with Santa's hat and bag, Batman with his crime computer, Charlie Brown at the tree farm and a Hallmark Hot Wheels commemorative featuring two racing original red lines (Red Baron and the Demon) crossing the finish line on the classic orange track. Just like I had as a kid. Ah, memories...

Colin Jones said...

I was amazed yesterday when HB said he had 25 boxes of Christmas decorations - when I was a kid all our decorations were stored in one wicker basket. In those days putting lights and decorations outside the house was unheard of, it's a bit more popular now but still uncommon - I think for most British people external decorations are considered a bit tacky and vulgar, just a different culture but I like them when I see them. Nowadays my only decorations are some candles and a chocolate Santa which I buy in early December and keep on display till Christmas morning when I'll eat it :)

Martinex1 said...

Graham and Redartz, Our family did have rotating aluminum trees growing up. Two in fact, a gold and a silver and the wondrous color wheel (I still have that). We would sit for hours watching the light change and reflect off the glimmering tree. I loved that. The trees actually rotated in a base that played Christmas music. Sometimes the motor would stick and the tree wouldn't spin, it would just shake and drop ornaments. In our full 70s mode, we didn't have a tree skirt but instead had mirrors that circled the base of the tree and reflected up. It was like a disco Christmas. Wow!

We stored all of the decorations in a damp basement, so Christmas always had a musty smell that I still associate with the holiday. Every year our family would sing Christmas carols in our living room before we could open presents.

When I got married I found a replica silver tree. I had to have it, but it rarely goes up now. Maybe this year!

Doug said...

Thanks for the comments so far, friends.

A burning question from days of yore is simply -- colored lights or white lights (or some other single color, I guess)? We always had colored lights -- the big bulbs that got hot to the touch. It was funny, because when I got married my wife's family's tradition had always been white lights of the small variety. This must be why we now decorate five Christmas trees in our household, each with a theme of its own.

In the family room is the -- wait for it -- family tree. It has heirloom ornaments from the childhoods of my wife and I was well as our sons, and ornaments from places we've been. There are also several Hallmark ornaments. In our dining room is a large tree filled with Precious Moments ornaments, and in our basement is a sports-themed tree with ornaments from ballparks and colleges we've visited, as well as Hallmark ornaments of pro athletes. And lastly, in our living room are two small trees, one with "dough ornaments" (that's what we call them -- they are marked with our family's names or initials and the year in which we received them) and the other with my comic-themed ornaments (mostly Hallmark - we keep those guys in business!). It's been strange this year as we've begun decorating as there are quite a bit fewer ornaments as my wife had boxed up those of our older son's and allowed him to use them to begin his new household with his wife.

Colin, you must have some willpower to be able to wait on that chocolate Santa until the 25th!

I love the stories about the aluminum trees. We never had that, nor have I seen one "in action". I can imagine that I'd have been captivated as well.

Doug

Redartz said...

Martinex1- wow; mirrors under the tree! I'd love to see that. Any vintage pics you can link for us?

Doug- five trees; how long does it take you folks to decorate? My wife would love that Precious Moments tree ( she collects those, our house is split between those and my comics memorabilia). Makes me wonder if you have HB's tally of 25 boxes beat...

Redartz said...

Oh, as to the lights: I like color. We once lived in Raleigh, N.C. , and the entire neighborhood used all white lights. It looked nice, and tasteful. But a bit subdued, so we hit up with multicolors. Don't recall getting any complaints!

Garett said...

I worked at my family's Christmas tree farm for many years. People would come out from the city, and get a homemade sled with a reindeer's name on it (Rudolph, Dasher, and Olive being the favorites) and go cut their tree. After, they'd warm up by the fire in the shed and drink hot chocolate. Many families would make a day of it, bringing hotdogs and marshmallows to roast on the bonfire-- and some Bailey's Irish cream! It was a fun project that lasted for 25 years (35 from the time I planted the first trees) until they sold the farm a couple years ago. Now my girlfriend and I still go to cut a real tree, and especially like balsam fir for the great scent, and soft needles.

Here's a fun new Christmas song by David Myles (you may know his other song Inner Ninja), called Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo

Doug said...

Redartz --

Rolling out the trees usually takes around a week. Not non-stop, of course, but a little bit each evening or a larger outcome if over a weekend.

My wife used the huge plastic tubs with snap on lids for ornaments storage. She keeps all of the original boxes. We have several of those in our basement, but not close to 25. Holiday decorating for all times of the year does not amount to 25 storage boxes.

HB is in a league of his own...

Doug

Doug said...

Big sale at Cheap Graphic Novels today. There were several things I'd have purchased that were marked "out of stock", but I did manage to snag four tpbs -- less than $50 with S&H.

http://www.cheapgraphicnovels.com/txs_xb_tracker.php?bid=I_18

Doug

Martinex1 said...

Redartz, I will be sure to link any photos if. I come across them this season. I am sure there are some, leisure suits and all.

Regarding lights, we did both but had patterns to adhere to with white on the windows and colored lights on the outdoor trees. My grandfather had bubble lights; as they heated up a colored water inside would bubble. Very cool. Lots of plastic light up Santas, candles, and nativity scenes on our street, and annual Christmas journeys to Marshall Fields to see Santa and look at the window displays in the city.

Anonymous said...

Hmm funnily enough my family never was into Christmas trees. We had a string of multi-coloured lights, the ones which had bulbs as big as night light bulbs; every Christmas season I would string those lights around our mango tree. It usually took a good half an hour stringing it all around the branches, but it looked great! One of my neighbours said he loved to stare at it for hours.


- Mike 'gonna see how much an LED set costs now' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

Hoo-- those LED's are still pretty pricey, Mike from T&T! Those old-style bigger bulbs are C-9's, and they're still my sentimental favorite-- 'cause it's what we ALL pretty much had when we were kids. I think they're still the prettiest to look at in a neighborhood snowscape, but boy, they do drink electricity! I have about six old strings (I think) that I've been replacing the bulbs on for probably 25 years. I doubt there's an original lamp left in them. . .

VERY late to the discussion today 'cause we- HA!- went to cut our own tree first thing this morning, and that's pretty much occupied the entirety of the day until now. The last couple of hours or so were spent dealing with the aftermath of the whole massively lit & decorated behemoth toppling over about an hour after we'd finished it. Ya wanna talk yer IMPOSSIBLY demoralizing circumstances. . . looking at a hugely heavy, 10-foot high/9 ft circumference tree laying on its side, hearing ornaments continue to shatter under the constant weight ranks up there pretty darned high. Amazingly. . . and I mean TRULY amazingly. . . no one lost their head, no one lost their temper, no one flipped out, and both HBSon and I tried to claim responsibility for the mishap. I guess in a way it was. . .it was a Christmas Miracle-!

Heh-- sideways. . . sort of. . .

HB

(PS-- I'm in love w/ this topic, of course, and will certainly try to contribute more to it tomorrow. Promise. . . or fair warning? The interpretation is yours!)

Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, that is an impressive tree, HB, and nicely lighted.
The thing that still puzzles me, but shouldn't, is how early everybody gets a tree and starts decorating their homes. When I was growing up, the tree went up a week before Christmas at the earliest - but if the holiday was on, say, a Monday, we got the tree and decorated it on the Saturday or Sunday before. My parents, being from Europe, would have preferred to always just get the tree on Christmas Eve, which is still the tradition around here. By the way, since we lived about an hour's drive from the foothills of the Cascade mountains in Oregon, our family tradition when I was a kid was to drive out to one of the many Christmas tree farms (the kind Garett mentioned) to chop down our own tree. Outside of the tree, we there was little other decoration around the house, and no lights on the house or in the front yard, either.
That sparse decorating tradition has stayed with me. The little lady and I rarely get a tree (we got a potted one for our first X-mas in our new house, which is now in the yard), but we always put up lights on the windows and on the railing to our little staircase. But that gets me to a topic I really like: lights. I just love Christmas lights - on people's homes, in stores, anywhere. I know it's kitschy, but they just make me so happy. So I really like how Zagreb is decorated for the holidays every year, as all of the streets and squares in the wider downtown area are decked out with some really beautiful lights.

Redartz said...

Edo- can't speak for anyone else, but our tree tradition goes back to my father, who put up the tree the weekend following Thanksgiving each year. So, it generally is a living room feature for about a month, time enough for the cats to play havoc with ornaments. And yes, holiday lighting ranks high on my like list too. We always make a point of driving around the area at night just looking at the displays.

HB- What a tree! Very impressive. Oh, and your story about the sideways tree reminds me of an episode we went through some years back. One of our cats took it into it's head to climb up inside the tree. It got stuck, and started panicking. This got the dog upset, who then went for the tree. Result: the tree fell sideways, the cat tangled in light strands with the dog after it, LITERALLY dragging the tree down the hallway, leaving a trail of broken ornaments behind. We weren't sure whether to laugh or cry (but it was, in hindsight, hilarious- oh, if only we had video...

Humanbelly said...

As much as I love pretty much the entirety of Christmas kitsch and sparkle and decorations and trimming, edo, I'm with you in that it's the decorative lights (in so many forms, sizes, and applications) that convey that lovely, intangible sense of magical "hush" that seems to have a nearly universal, cross-cultural appeal. They're my favorite element as well. It started 'way back in Germany when they started putting candles (!!!) on their Christmas trees (which still just makes me shy away in horror--- maybe that explains all of the burnt-down castles in Bavaria-??). And once Edison perfected a practical incandescent bulb, pretty much the next thing one of his wealthy pals did was to design/commission little colored Christmas lights for his tree. (Do you folks in our British contingent still refer to them as "fairy lights", or has that become an old, quaint phrase now?). I'm sure from a deep enthusiast's perspective, practical Christmas lights were the primary objective anyhow, and the world simply sat twiddling its thumbs while ol' Tom was getting his act together experimenting with some rather inane filament choices. . .

As a side note, we watched HOLIDAY INN on Thursday night-- and Bing indeed had live candles on that tree. I was gripping the edge of the couch cushion in terror. It was like watching FRIDAY THE 13TH. . .

Man, and I'm liking your description of a holiday-lighted Zagreb. It, of course, seems so incredibly far off and exotic, and yet clearly there's the very same inherent love of having the wintertime landscape lit with pretty lights.

Our own day-after-Thanksgiving tree acquisition habit started only about 4 or 5 years ago due to schedule demands more than anything else. It used to be an aspect of my birthday (1st week of Dec), but as everyone got older and busier, the ONLY available time for us all proved to be Thksgiving weekend-- so we just went for it. Two or three years ago, in fact, we were the very first customers to arrive at the tree farm-- and were the first back on the road. (Snack/hot dog/hot chocolate vendor hadn't even opened yet--- they were replaced the following season. . . )

HB-- could rattle on forever. Hmm- maybe almost an unofficial guest-post?

Edo Bosnar said...

Sorry for the quality of those pics, the filter modes on my (now broken down) camera either take away too much of the light or create blur in night-time photographs. Still, I think they convey a bit of what I mentioned in my earlier comment.
Anyway, a new camera is definitely on my holiday wish list...

Humanbelly said...

So DaveB & Garrett, you guys both spent some time as helpful, festive tree-farm attendants, eh? That's quite cool. (Heck, depending on the weather, cold , even!) It looks like it has the potential to be absolute merciless drudge of a job, except. . . except. . . it's almost always a much-anticipated event for the people getting the trees, y'know? The first big "tradition" of the upcoming new holiday season. Was there a certain amount of gratification along those lines that helped get ya through the tougher, busier winter days, you think? I mean, it may not have been akin to playing Santa, but it still was in the realm of adding a touch of joy and fun to folks' lives for a special event, yes?

Redartz, the mental image of your particular tree disaster sounds like an old Disney film come to life! All it needed was for your cat to run across a table laden with food, followed by the dog, followed by the tree, and you'd have been ready to appear in about 75% of their family films from the 60's through the 90's. . . !

Chocolate Santa would be hard-pressed to survive til Christmas Morn in our house. Fortunately, one of our earlier-morning traditions involves me following clues around the house to find hidden chocolate treats from HBGirl. . .

Geeze Doug. . . five trees in your house-! I mentioned it to HBWife, and she did not respond with a lot of favor, I have to confess. Many years ago a dear, departed friend and I got to talking about tree-decorating during our X-Mas Eve visit to he & his wife's house. He was an astonishing decorator, and we were bemoaning the fact that a single tree was so limiting. They had this enormous Great Room that they entertained in, and I floated the idea that it was plenty large enough to have his main (14-foot!!) tree, as well as a number of conventional trees. . . and that they could be arranged tightly together, creating an enchanted "Christmas Forest". He gasped with delighted glee, and started rattling off ideas on how well this could work. His wife immediately jumped up, and in a slightly raised voice stated firmly, "We are NOT having a Christmas Forest. We are NOT." And HBWife followed right up (at me) with something along the lines of "That'll be just about enough of THAT sort of talk, mister. . . " And so of COURSE when I mentioned your five trees, the FIRST words she uttered were, "NO-- you are NOT doing a Christmas Forest!" Man, artists are just so misunderstood in their own time. . .

As a consolation, though, we do have six 5' to 8' trees set up in the front room of our theater's scene shop, as well as a bunch of table-top ones, and a zillion lights and other decorations. So the Christmas Forest does exist-- just not in an actual house. . .

HB-- still rollin' w/ the subject. ..

Colin Jones said...

HB - yes, we still often say "fairy lights". Your tree is terrific, and you look so young in that second photo :D

Karen said...

I really enjoy seeing and hearing about everyone's holiday traditions. It's getting me in the spirit of the season. Thanks for sharing everybody! (Yes, I'm still alive...)

Humanbelly said...

Karen's alive!
It's another Christmas Miracle!

(Cue Music)

HARK THE HERRRRR-ALD ANGELS SI-ING. . .


Hey, may I wrap-up with a further few random topic-related thoughts that have done the mind-cross during the course of this thread? I may? (Hmm-- if I mayn't, then I may be about to do some serious transgressin', here. . .)

* (Comment lost to the the ether in my first attempted post)-- Doug, somehow your boys look just like you AND they look like their Mom. Logically indicating that you and your lovely wife also look like each other. Clearly there's a genetics paper on Hank McCoy's to-do list that explores the effects of long-term proximity on the malleability of on individuals very DNA. . . i.e., how folks start to look like each other when they've been married long enough. Heh-heh.

* Edo-- I had no idea how incredibly dominant the Catholic Church is in Croatia! I had assumed there was likely a broad mix of Christian, Muslim, and Eastern European Jews in this little country. . . hunh, now I'm a little bit smarter in my worldview. . .

* Doug- so that's the old Coca-Cola Santa design, is it? Did not know that, although we're quite familiar with it (it's been around forever). No kidding, we have always referred to it as the "Creepy Santa". And for some reason it has really dominated the seasonal offerings across the booths this year at one of our local Antiques Communities. You turn a corner, and there'll be 14 of them watching you come down the aisle. Did anyone ever find that face design charming??

* LED lights-- environmentally terrific, but. . . do they "feel" Christmassy?

Okay, okay, okay--- I shall yield this shameless self-indulgence and go back to being my normal, uhm, taciturn (oh boy) self once again. . .

HB





William said...

A little late to the party, but I'll drop a comment anyway. We always had a fake tree when I was growing, but I grew up (and still reside) in Florida - The land of illusion. My mom always decorated the inside of the house with figurines, and Santas and Snowmen and such. But we didn't do a whole lot with the outside of the house, except maybe put up a string or two of lights around the roof.

As a kid growing up in Florida, I always felt a little left out at Christmas, because we didn't get snow (or even cold weather much). And when I'd watch Christmas specials and movies on TV they were always all about the snow. (Snowball fights, sledding, snowmen, etc.) So, it was always hard for me to get completely into the whole Christmas thing. In fact as I write this on November 29th, at 9:20 in the AM, it is currently 77 degrees outside. No snow in the forecast. LOL.

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, you have no idea. Too lazy to look up the latest statistics, but I think it's something like over 80% of the population that self-identifies as Catholic. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they're all that observant, as every few years there's always some bishop or priest lamenting in the media about how the churches are virtually empty on Sunday while the shopping malls are packed. Also, is there something in those photos that clued you into that information? They seem pretty religiously neutral to me...

William, to some extent I can relate about the lack of a white Christmas. During the 1970s and '80s, the part of Oregon I grew up in, a temperate river valley between the Cascade mountains and a low range of coastal mountains, hardly ever got any snow - it just rained a lot. And in the winter it was often freezing rain - much of the unpleasantness associated with snow, i.e., dangerously slippery roads and sidewalks, but none of the upsides. When I was living there, I don't think we ever had snow for Christmas, and in general during that whole time there was barely a half-dozen snow days when school was called off.

Redartz said...

I'm with HB,loving this topic too- just can't stay off of it! As for those LED lights, I love 'em. Although the light quality they emit seems less warm than the old incandescents, the lower current usage makes them very worthwhile. As an added bonus, that allows me to connect all the outside light strands together on one switch without blowing a circuit! Anything that simplifies the lighting is a big plus...

At the risk of starting another sidetrack: another holiday tradition (a personal one) is to take an evening and peruse some of my favorite Holiday-themed comics. And there are many; a possible topic, perhaps?

Humanbelly said...

Yeah Redartz, I have to confess that the gradual ongoing shift to LED's has helped to better distribute the electrical load on the three available non-dedicated circuits I can use for our outdoor lights. While our outdoor display isn't a mammoth undertaking, really, it's definitely more than any one aging 10-amp circuit-breaker is going to handle with grace. One of them is also our porch light, and there were a couple of un-careful years where the light switch would give that tentative little "pop" when I switched it on and off. The LED's make a terrific buffer against that sort of thing. And interestingly, the younger folks seem to prefer them aesthetically-- go figure.

Edo, I just happened to look Croatia up early in the thread, 'cause I found myself wondering what the religious demographic really was. You're right-- well over 80% Catholic! And there was no Jewish population listed whatsover-- one assumes it would be part of the 4% or so under "other". What was very heartening, though, was to see that the constitution is staunch in its commitment to religious freedom. HUGE potential for a "tyranny of the majority" scenario, and Croatia's founding fathers were wise enough to circumvent that. (I'm assuming Croatia had some form of founding fathers, yes?)

HB

William said...

Redartz, I love the Holiday Comics. And these days I add Holiday Superhero Animated Series episodes to the list as weall. Such as Batman The Animated Series "Christmas With The Joker", and "Holiday Knights", and The Justice League "Comfort And Joy". I make it a point to watch all three of those pretty much every year.

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, *heavy sigh* since you brought it up: in a nutshell, yes, the constitution very admirably institutes a secular state, but in the late 1990s a series of controversial treaties were signed with the Vatican which gave the Catholic Church a really privileged status here - and ever since then there has been an on-again, off-again public debate about just how constitutional those treaties are (including calls for their repeal/rescission - which I think should be done) and just what role the Church should have in society. But against that backdrop, as I said, a big chunk of the people who declare themselves Catholic here are severely lapsed, only going to church on holidays like Christmas and Easter and ignoring most church rules. As of the Jewish contingent, yes, it's very small now, but there used to be pretty sizable Jewish communities in most larger cities and towns - tragically, a particularly vile Quisling regime with some help from Nazi troops during WW2 pretty much annihilated them. And I'll stop there, as I'd prefer to keep the discussion here focused on lighter topics...

Christmas Lover said...

I an with above person

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