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Sixty-Something: My Love Affair With Christmas Trees

T.J. Clemente

The author's Christmas tree. (Courtesy Photo)

My earliest remembrance of decorating a Christmas tree goes back to when I was four or five. What I always remember first was the strange thin lights that had a hot oil substance in them and bubbled when lit. I recall how delicate the decorative bulbs were because if you didn't handle them just right and they fell, more often than not they cracked and had to be thrown out. Mom would clean the mess.

Over the years it seems almost everyone has this box that contains all the family decorations from over the years. In it are relics of many Christmas's past, such as ornaments made by the kids in school years, ones from trips, gifts, even ones your folks gave you. To this day I still have a few of those.

I bought my first tree for my post college apartment in New Rochelle. My friends called it the "Charlie Brown" tree because it was so sparse. It was short and had at most nine or ten branches well-spaced out. It was ten bucks, and with cash being short in those days I thought I overpaid. I have a Polaroid of it somewhere. In fact I have photos of most of the family trees, I guess we all do.

Memories of my children's eyes when we lit the tree every year will stay with me forever. The excitement of watching the tree glow that first time remains special to this day. Decorating the tree with the young children was funny with too many things hung extremely low! Over the years as they grew the ornaments would move up higher, my last memory of a family tree is of the two teen girls arranging the angel on top without arguing like sisters usually do.

Now my daughters are in their thirties and live far away; one in England and one in Washington D.C. However my wife Cindi and I decorate our tree with the same excitement the kids did! We have a high arched loft above our kitchen, just large enough to fit our tree and on the wall way up there is a round clock-like window that makes the top of the tree visible outside. I do the lights and the setting up and Cindi does the bulbs, foils and other specialties, then we try to get the angel on top just right, just like my daughters tried to do so many years ago.

I am always amazed the different ways folks decorate trees. Some have bulbs and lights the same colors. Others hang candy canes and other treats. They say back in the day the old-timers hung stringed popcorn and used lit candles, not exactly safety code stuff these days. I marvel at the size of some of the trees I see at homes in the Hamptons where the folks most likely have to use big step ladders to decorate the tops. Then there are the mini-trees you see in condos and apartments, sort of like my first tree.

Lastly I wanted to mention the few Christmas times I spent with my daughters in Florida visiting my folks when they were older, toward the end of their lives. They had a white artificial tree. It seemed to be a popular thing in Florida you could see them through the big windows of most homes.

I am sure all who celebrate Christmas have similar stories. Oh I want to remind us of that the taking down of the tree is the beginning of the next New Year. At sixty-something that becomes more poignant each and every time.


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