For my family, Christmas, like Paris, has been a moveable feast. We were a military family. I grew up in Illinois, Germany, Virginia, New Mexico, and Thailand. We were lucky—Dad was always able to be home for the holiday. Grandparents, however, were a different matter.
I have memories of Christmas in Germany—images, and remembrances triggered by old photos and slides. At least one year, both sets of grandparents (well, my Dad’s parents and my Mom’s mom—her dad had passed away when she was a child.) came over. We have some great old photos of the family walking across the Rhine River one year when it froze solid.
Both sides of the family lived in Virginia, so when we were stateside and local, we’d drive down to Charlottesville or they would come up to Northern Virginia. I loved seeing all the different houses decorated for the season.
Oddly enough, the first white Christmas I remember was in New Mexico! Virginia usually gets its first snow in mid-January—and the snowy months are February and March. But that year, we woke up Christmas morning to a heavy dusting of snow in the desert.
Bangkok, Thailand, was my first tropical Christmas. The seasons are backwards there, so it was the height of summer—shorts and sleeveless tops. It was fun seeing the Asian-themed holiday decorations and ornaments, like silk-trimmed Christmas cards and having a water buffalo turn up in the crèche scenes. That was the first year there was An Issue with the Christmas tree. It was the late ’60s—artificial trees were cheap, ugly, and, frankly, decent people didn’t use them. And yet…we were in the Orient.
Dad got notice when cut trees were available to be picked up from the PX. We were startled when he returned without one. He broke the news to us—to get to Bangkok by mid-December, the trees had been cut, sent to California for shipping, and put on a cargo boat some FOUR MONTHS earlier. Yes, the trees had probably been cut sometime between August and September. He explained that the ones that were available were basically dead and not even green (some, he was pretty sure, had been spray painted), showered needles whenever they were touched, and he said if he put a string of lights in them, he was fairly sure they’d just burst into flame.
We decided we couldn’t do without a tree at all, and Mom declared if we were going to have a fake tree, we weren’t going to be pretending it was a real one. The tree that year was a six-foot silver aluminum one.
Between the tropical weather and the silver tree, it made for a VERY unique Christmas. We used that tree both years, and it travelled home with us afterwards. For years, we’d set it up on the screen porch with the larger “generic” extra ornaments—mostly just balls of various colors or that had been gifts with a slightly tacky theme.
I had my parents’ bias against artificial trees for decades. My husband was in North Carolina for the holidays one year, and I had preschoolers, a full-time job, a killer commute, and a really tight budget. I went out looking for a real tree that I could afford and handle, and came up blank. Finally, Christmas Eve, in pure frustration, I bought a pre-lit artificial tree from Target that had just been marked down 50 percent.
And I had it up and lit in less than half an hour. It was like a freaking Christmas miracle. It looked great. Especially with ornaments on it, it is difficult to tell that it’s artificial. All I miss is the scent of a fresh tree—and, frankly, that can be bought these days. I cannot believe it never really sank in how much ‘fake’ trees had improved in, oh, thirty years. *sigh*
Now, I’m eyeing one that’s prelit with COLOR lights (the all white gets hot, and is kind of glaring). I saw one this year that’s programmable—with a clicker and everything (because every house needs ANOTHER remote to lose around the holidays in all the Christmas clutter)—that can be changed from multi-color, to single color, to white, or cycles through. Finding the right size, right style, and right price is a problem, but hopefully we’ll have a new one by next year.
Honestly, my real goal is to have multiple trees…I love ornaments, and really have outgrown a single tree. I need either a two-story living room for a much taller tree, or multiple trees. Though I wouldn’t turn down both.