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I apologize for not being around the past couple of weeks.  I have been busy with Christmas goodie baking and some personal matters.  I shipped off a box of treats to the former Mrs. Translator on Monday for her to enjoy and share with Middle Son, Least Son, and their families.  I also mailed out a box to Eldest Son and his mate since they are unable to come home this year.

I sent Black Walnut/Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Hickory Nut/Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Apricot Bread, Black Walnut/White "Chocolate" Toll House Cookies, and of course Lizzies.  It was warm and I was unable to get the Myer's Rum Truffles rolled Sunday night, so they missed out on them.  I finally froze a one liter bottle of water and used it to keep my hands cold Monday evening so I was able to get them rolled Tuesday.  Some of them I dipped in tempered milk chocolate, some I coated with cocoa powder, and some I coated with confectioner's sugar.  I have improved on the recipe in the link, so ignore it.  At the next available What's for Dinner? I shall publish the improved recipe.  Last night I took care packages to my neighbors who are also my friends, including the truffles.

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I have mentioned previously how much my mum loved Christmas.  She loved wrapping the gifts, cooking the goodies and meals, and even buying the gifts.  But most of all she loved to decorate the interior of the house.  (The outside belonged to my dad to decorate.)  A major part of decorating was the tree itself, but she did the whole downstairs as well.

We never bought a tree (except for one of those three foot aluminum ones popular in the early 1906s on which she would hang the Christmas cards).  We always went out and got our own.  Before I was old enough to go, my brother and dad would go get one, usually from the farm.  Later, after he married and moved away and I got older, my dad and I would go.

Later on my friend and I would go, and later still the former Mrs. Translator and I would go.  In our area the only candidate species was the Eastern red cedar, actually a juniper, Juniperus virginiana.  Those can be very handsome trees and often have a very nice shape naturally.  The scales on the leaves and stems of them are very sharp and penetrating, so you have to wear gloves to handle them whislt harvesting.

Just going to the farm to get one was not daring enough, and besides most of the pretty ones were gone by the time that I got involved getting trees even when I went with my father.  We would just go and find one, regardless of where it was growing.  This required stealth!

The way that worked the best was for two or more of us to drive to where pretty trees were growing and for the driver to drop off the cutter.  Since stealth was important, the axe or bow saw was the tool of choice since they were quiet compared to a chain saw.  The cutter would cut the tree and lay low with it until the driver returned.  They the two of them would throw it into the back of the pickup, tie it down, and get away fast.  Only once did a landowner nearly catch us, and he probably would not have minded anyway.  Junipers are extremely common whence I come, and sometimes become a nuisance.  We preferred ones that had lots of blue juniper berries on them.  Some winters were harsh and pretty, green ones were hard to find, but if we had patience we could always find a good one.

Our house has ten foot ceilings downstairs, so we could go for really big trees.  Fortunately, juniper trees are light for their height, so two people could easily handle a nine foot tree.  Once we got it home we would take a saw and even the bottom of the trunk and make sure that it was at a right angle to the axis of the trunk.  Then we would prop it against the house in a bucket of water.

Then we would get the tree stand that we used since around 1962 (my parents were still using it when I moved away) and put it together.  Next we would take a nail or the drill and make a hold in the center of the base for the spike in the bottom of the tree stand.  Even though that was a massive tree stand, with a nine foot tree we had to support it near the top with a wire or stout cord to keep it from tipping.

We would drag the tree into the living room (with my mum complaining about the debris on the carpet, but good naturedly), put the stand on it, and raise it.  It was my job to get on the floor and adjust the screws in the stand to get it as vertical as possible.  I still remember itching from doing that, since the branches were barely off the floor.

Once we got it erected and the upper support wire attached (and the stand filled with water) it was time to decorate it.  This was a really big family event.  We had a ritual of sorts.  First came the lights.  Ours were the old C7 1/2 ones, at half a watt per light.  A string of fifty drew 25 watts, enough to get quite warm or even hot.  We had lots of lights, usually five or six strings.  Assuming six strings, at 25 watts per, that is 150 watts, half enough again as the brightest common single incandescent bulb.  But since efficiency in light production rises as the single bulb power consumption does, those bulbs produced lots more heat than the rating would indicate.

Most of those bulbs were of the translucent variety, so that it was not possible to see the filament.  Later on we started to get the transparent ones, all in gay colors.  Both the transparent and (translucent) ones were clear (white), orange (orange), red (red), green (green), and blue (blue).  We did not use twinkle lights until I was older, and I still prefer a mix of constant ones and twinkle ones.  We also had some of the old bubble lights (a clear tube containing a volatile organic material dyed in Christmas colors) that you had to clip to a tree branch to make sure that it was upright or it would not bubble.

After the lights, on went the roping (some call it tinsel).  Once again, it was ancient, my parents having bought it before I was born.  It was heavy aluminum foil decorative balls strung on a heavy cotton twine.  I got really good with it and would loop in over and under itself.  Sometimes the old cotton twine would break, but we just tied it back together and tried to hide the seams on the back of the tree.  There was enough to decorate a huge one, so we never ran out of it.

After the roping came the ornaments.  We had boxes and boxes of them, and I had my favorites.  The old, clear, hand painted ones that predated me were my favorites, and they were fragile.  I took the utmost care with them and only, as I recall, broke one.  Those were hung with care by heavy hooks (the ones that you get now are lightweight) that really gripped the tree.  They were heavily galvanized, and lasted for decades.  After that came the balls, fragile but nondescript glass ones, that were hung to accentuate the lights.

By this time the tree was getting hot, and I mean from the heat from the lights.  That is why we always cut a new slice from the tree just before we put it in the stand.  Our trees would often require over a gallon of water per day to keep them green and not to get dry, and it was my job for years to make sure that there was plenty of water in the reservoir.

All of this hanging and watering took its toll!  Juniper trees, and I mentioned earlier, have really sharp and penetrating leaf scales, and I have sort of an allergic reaction to them.  I would always get all red and whealpy on my hands from the lights, roping, and ornaments, and my arms would get that way from watering the tree.  But such is the price of a proper Christmas tree!

In later years, after my boys were born, my mum would buy a new ornament with each of their names on it and the date to hang.  Either the former Mrs. Translator (with whom I spoke today to tell her that her box of Christmas goodies are on their way for her and the boys) or I would hang them, and we often took turns.  When the boys were old enough, they hung their own ones whilst we watched.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

After all of the hanging things went on the tree, there were the icicles.  I LOVE icicles on a Christmas tree, and the ones (aluminized Mylar plastic) were not anything like the old ones.  The old ones were made of pure lead, rolled into a foil, embossed with a crinkle, and then cut into around 1/8" strips that were around 18 inches long.  Those were ICICLES!  They were easy to separate, heavy enough to hand well, and shiny.  They were not reusable because they were tender, so we never bothered to try to recover them, but just vacuumed up what fell when the tree came down and left the rest on the tree.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned them many decades ago, but I suspect that some of the folks reading this remember them.  I still very much dislike the aluminized plastic ones.  They are too light, do not cling, and just look gaudy.  But that is just me.

Every now and then my mum would buy a can of the spray "snow" to put on the trees, but it was disgusting.  We used it only a couple of times, and decided that it was better for frosting windows than spraying on the tree.

Once the tree was decorated (and it was a huge family effort), the blanket went down over the stand (with the opening handy for me to water it) and the gifts were arranged under it.  I am recalling that the tree was ready around the second week in December and that the gifts kept accumulating until Christmas Day.  Our family had a strict tradition that no gift could be opened until Christmas Day.  Perhaps we shall talk about those other traditions next week, but this one is dedicated to the tree.

By the way, a Christmas tree is quite pagan, from our Germanic ancestors.  If I am not occupied (please wish for me that I am!) I shall write a piece about that next week.

After all of the gifts were opened and the day enjoyed, it was time to take the tree down and out of the house.  By that time it was quite dry and the leaf scales hurt horribly!  After the first or second time, I always wore leather work gloves for that chore.  We would take a cup and remove the water from the stand, remove the ornaments, then the roping, then the lights, and pack them.  Then Dad and I would manhandle the tree out the front door, spilling lead icicles and lots of tree debris in our wake.  Mother would vacuum them up as we did that.  This was always done before New Year's Eve.

Once we got the tree outside, the ceremony for a long time was to burn it.  I am not sure if that is from the pagan origins of the tree or if just for expediency, but burn it we did.  Have you ever put a four week old, dried out juniper tree alit?  It is AMAZING how fast they burn!  From lighting the bottom bough with nothing more than a kitchen match to backing away, it takes only fewer than ten seconds for the tree to be completely involved!  The flame is incredibly large and hot, and on a nine foot tree would often reach 25 feet or more, but just for a couple of minutes.  That is long enough to burn down a house, so be careful with natural trees!

In later years we would take them to my friend's very large pond and wire rocks to them and sink them in deep water to provide habitat for catfish spawning.  To be honest, Rex and I would burn them before sinking them because it was so, so cool to watch, and only the scale leaves were burnt for the most part, the limbs where the catfish hide being only lightly singed.

Well, there you have how we used to "do" the Christmas tree.  By the way, many of the decorations, lights, and roping are in the possession of the former Mrs. Translator.  Not all of them, but lots of them.  I am happy that they remain in the family, and the boys know whence they came.  I hope that they can hand some of them down to their children as time passes.

Please feel free to comment on how you used to decorate your tree (or, for our friends of other faiths, how you celebrated your holiday, because almost all religions have a winter solstice celebration) or otherwise make the house joyful.  I always enjoy reading your recollections.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Docudharma, and

firefly-dreaming

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips and recs for (15+ / 0-)

    remembering distant memories?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

    I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

    by Translator on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 04:34:56 PM PST

    •  Thanks for the recommended (4+ / 0-)

      list!  I very much appreciate it!  I am not allowed to add that tag to my piece, but I do appreciate all of you for hitting the button.

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 08:00:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The tag is automatic now (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Translator, arizonablue

        since we got DK4. If a diary makes the Rec List, the "Recommended" tag is automatically added.

        Actually it was more fun to add the tags manually, but such is the price of progress I guess.:D

        Happy holidays, everyone!

        •  If you look at my tags (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ekaterin, arizonablue

          you will see that it is not there.  No one understands how it works.  I used to tag my own ones once they they hit the list, but Meteor Blades told me that if I ever did it again that I, writing here since 2005, would be banned.  So what do you do?

          Warmest regards,

          Doc

          I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

          by Translator on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 11:47:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I always check the front page (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Translator, arizonablue

            for diaries on the Rec List. The number of people showing on this page who recommended the diary doesn't necessarily mean the diary is on the Rec List.

            If you find it on the Rec List, definitely write to an admin if the tag is missing!

            Oh, the memories of Christmas bubble lights! Thanks for this diary.

            •  On the list, (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              arizonablue, Ekaterin

              but no tag.  I really do not care, it is just something that is not important.  The important think is that we are talking.  I am glad that you remember the bubble lights!

              Warmest regards,

              Doc

              I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

              by Translator on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 12:42:19 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  I was able to donate spare decorations (8+ / 0-)

    ornaments, paper chains and hand-made felt dolls to a pair of worthy families.

    The celebrations for me this year are in other people's homes and my improved set of recipes.

    Our coming snowstorm tonight in central Wisconsin is a fine present.

    In the past, handmade red stockings were fill with candy and hung near the tree.  I never figured out where my parents hid the presents.

  •  Nice diary, Doc, and much appreciated (6+ / 0-)

    I recall when very young, my parents getting a real tree and decorating it on Christmas Eve.
    I remember one year when the ornament at the very top caught fire!
    That was the end of real trees and by then, aluminum trees were out.
    I loved the aluminum tree with the spinning color wheel - we had two! - and my mother placed all blue balls on it.
    It was really pretty and sparkly!

    Then, green artificial trees came out and I remember going to Sears and Roebuck and the Christmas part was in the basement near the popcorn/candy counter.
    My second oldest brother drove, as my mother never did learn to drive and I was in the 5th grade and it was the best Christmas ever and has never been surpassed.

    The smell of caramel corn always takes me back, because my mom bought a bag - it was made fresh - and we all snacked on it while looking at all the Christmas decorations.

    My mom asked my dad if we could get a green artificial tree and on another night, we went back to Sears and mom bought more caramel corn, and we picked out a tree.
    She also bought a manger set made in Germany that has a music box that plays 'Silent Night' and I have that manger and place that under our tree.
    She bought a pretty Styrofoam Santa in a sleigh with reindeer and I had that for years and set that out, but eventually it became faded and fell apart.

    That Christmas was the best for so many reasons.
    We all had the spirit that year and we put the tree up 2 weeks before Christmas and my mom and brothers and I decorated the living room as never before with garland on the fake mantle, and around the archway into the living room.
    My dad strung real Christmas lights on that tree and my mother had the nicest old ornaments.

    My brother would took us out one night, and it was snowing, and he drove us all around the wealthy suburb of Detroit - Grosse Point, where Henry Ford's family lived and every house was decorated so beautifully.
    And oh yeah, he stopped at Sears on the way for caramel corn!

    I got a stuffed brown puppy that year and it was so soft with a yellow ribbon around its neck and a little bell in its ear.

    It's a great memory and wish I could do it justice, but thank you for letting me re-live it.

    Merry Christmas, Doc!

     

    •  Thank you for responding! (4+ / 0-)

      This is a special time for everyone, regardless of faith.  I am hopeful that my friend will, but let us not talk about that.

      The former Mrs. Translator called me tonight and told me that when she opened the box that I sent, all that she could smell was the wonderful scent of Lizzies!  She thanked my profusely for sending them to her, and to ours.  At least I did something right this season!  You know, there just might be a small chance of something wonderful in future.

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 07:11:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I can still picture those bubble lights (4+ / 0-)

    that you spoke of on my grandparents' tree.

    I was totally mesmerized by them as a little kid!
    So much so, that when I came across them about
    20 years ago, I bought a couple of strands for our tree.

    They were still fabulous to me, but when one of them
    melted into an unidentifiable clump of plastic, I was terrified,
    and threw them all away.  
    Can't have that, with babies in the house!

    Peace and Blessings to you and yours during
    this Season of Light, Doc.  

  •  I collect 12 day of christmas ornaments (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, Dbug, arizonablue

    I have a set my mother in law embroidered, which of course are the best, one with decoupage and a partial set of obscenely expensive figurines I would love to complete, but can't find any more.  Plus "candles" for the tree, with old fashioned tin stencilled light reflectors for the bases.  And animal and musical figurines.  So it will be an eclectic tree, but it is not up yet!

    We used to string popcorn and cranberries, and I remember always sticking myself with the heavy needle trying to pierce the damned cranberries.  Several years ago I bought several strings of cranberry colored wooden beads, as a much less painful remembrance.

    I will not cook at all for christmas day, but will eat in 3 different places):  My poor spouse has to work, so he will be justifiably crabby.

    Finally have a little nephew to spoil, so he gets a dissecting microscope for christmas.  He's only 6 but extraordinarily precocious, so hopefully this will be something to keep him entertained for a long time.

    Happy holidays to you and all!

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 09:01:46 PM PST

    •  It is not likely (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arizonablue, barbwires

      that I will be with anyone then.  Oh, well!

      Warmest regards,

      Doc

      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 11:14:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Popcorn and cranberries! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Translator, arizonablue, barbwires

      We did that, too! And by "we" I mean mostly my mother. She'd get a sewing needle and thread and she'd create red and white strings that would be put on the tree branches. I think it might have been a family tradition for her or something.

      My father's family tradition was singing around the Christmas tree before we could open presents. The final song had to be "apples and pears," which lyrics were "the apples and pears they grow on the trees and when they get ripe they just fall on the ground." (at which point people fall on the ground).

      We opened presents on Christmas Eve (which I think is a Norwegian American tradition). We'd usually have Norwegian meatballs for dinner. My mother insisted they were superior to Swedish meatballs. As a kid, I knew there was a definite progression. Eat dinner, then the dishes had to be washed. Then singing around the tree. Then opening presents. But when you're a kid, you want to get to the presents, so my siblings and I would eat really fast, wash dishes really fast, and try to suggest the apples and pears song. My parents would try to slow things down, of course.

      “If you misspell some words, it’s not plagiarism.” – Some Writer

      by Dbug on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 11:56:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Our tradition was to (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dbug, arizonablue

        read from Luke on Christmas eve.  It does not look likely that I will be with a family for that.  But it is of my own wreckage.

        Warmest regards,

        Doc

        I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

        by Translator on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 01:21:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Will think about you on Christmas eve (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dbug, Translator

          Our rector always reads from Luke.  So remember you have a Kos family who really likes your snippets of history and science.

          Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

          by barbwires on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 04:54:34 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

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