Christmas decorations evolve

Well, my friends, it’s been another whirlwind year. From the Chicken Spring to the summer screen door blues, the Great Birthday Blowout to the defective cookie jar, I find myself wondering how on earth we managed to squeeze it all in. And now, all of a sudden, it’s Christmastime.

I’m not usually one to follow fashion trends, but going through some of my dad’s (and grandma’s) things, I’m amazed at how far Christ­mas decorations have come.

Take trees, for instance. Grandma’s sister, Tena, had a tree that was pretty spectacular for its day. It looked like a collection of seafoam-green bottle brushes in a general evergreen shape. Someone had gone overboard with the flocking, so every branch was loaded with white powdery stuff.

Perhaps in an effort to evoke the spirit of Rudolph, each branch also had one red ornament affixed to its very tip. Said tree also had an assortment of doves that were meant to be wired to random branches.

I suppose they were pretty realistic for the era, but in hindsight, they were just creepy. They all had red beaks, for example. Not pink, blood red. To this day, I wonder who thought that was a good idea.

Grandma had two trees. Of course, there was the plastic one that had to be festooned with ornaments and plenty of tinsel, along with a few strands of lights. It was quite the event when mini-lights came out, let me tell you.

The real star of the show though, was the ceramic tree with its interchangeable plastic flame-shaped plugs. I spent many an hour achieving the perfect color distribution or pattern of the year.

At home, we had a series of trees. The earliest one I remember was a theoretically realistic plastic number. Each size of branch was stored in a separate box, and seemingly each branch only really fit one specific socket in the plastic trunk. I think it might have been more realistic if it hadn’t smelled like basement.

I noticed every year there was a box in the storage area marked “Aluminum Christ­mas Tree.” Sometimes I peeked inside, tantalized by the shining silver, but for some reason we never used it.

For a while in my teenage years, we managed to get real trees. I’m pretty sure it’s because my parents agreed with me that a can of pine-scented Lysol just wasn’t quite authentic. Eventually, Mom went for a nifty little fiberoptic number that was vastly easier to set up and take down, and didn’t leave needles in the shag carpet.

Lights were another feature. Tena’s flocked tree was illuminated by floodlights on the floor. Not only did Grandma’s tree have lights, we had outdoor decorations to put up. A window-sized wreath of plastic holly and colored lights had to be mounted to frame the tree indoors, and half of the lights changed. A pair of plastic carolers in the corner of the front porch completed the scene.

At home, we ran the gamut from faceted plastic globes to mini-lights as soon as they came out. I tried hanging icicle lights from Mom’s roof once, but I think the sight of me up there might have taken a few years off her life. We haven’t repeated the incident.

Ornaments seem to have followed themes. Tena’s doves and Grandma’s frosted glass ornaments never changed. At home, we did red and gold most often, with the occasional multicolored year.

Every year, it seemed like there were so many ornaments we didn’t use, but kept for sentimental reasons. Even as an adult, I find myself preferring a specific color scheme, keeping the oddball keepsake ornaments, but never displaying them.

This year, Darling Hubby and the kids went out to the pasture to get our tree. Eastern Red Cedar, known affectionately (or not so) around here as juniper. They returned with a promising number, at least until they stood it up. And it was lovely. All 10 feet of it. “We’re going to need a bigger house,” I thought.

Even after extensive trimming, we finally stuffed the thing through the door, and the top was still bent over. Realizing the top was too wispy to support any kind of tree topper, I had the bright idea to just cut the top off. Now it fit, and we had a lovely smelling Christmas Shrub. How do you follow a color scheme or pay attention to ornament placement when branches just won’t cooperate?

You don’t. So, I took a deep breath, showed the kids the ornament totes, and let them loose. I think it’s quite possibly the smartest thing I’ve ever done. They put up the lights, then proceeded to drag out every single sentimental ornament they could find. They had great fun with the beads and garland, and actually worked together without fighting.

As the year draws to a close, don’t forget to take out those memories and keepsakes and enjoy them.

Shana Thornhill lives on farm near Marion. She can be reached at

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