Coupled with the fact that I also go away for the Faith Winter Conference, and also the fact that Sylvester, my cat, has rather a penchant for eating any plant material left unattended, this means that Christmas trees are not my thing. I am, however, happy to make admiring noises (or disparaging remarks) about the trees of others... Being half-German makes me an expert on Christmas tree decorations, tree decorating being a national pastime (according to my mother!)
So, instead of recalling my favourite ornament, I shall describe Christmas trees of my youth.
The most important thing was that it was always a real tree. Imitation trees were pretty ghastly objects when I was a child, and my mother despised them. If you weren't finding pine needles in the carpet (and your socks) until April, it wasn't a proper tree.
Because it was a real tree, and the varieties available in England didn't seem to last very long, the tree didn't go up until Christmas Eve. It might be bought a week before that, but it stayed in its net wrapping on the balcony outside until the big day. Once inside, it had to be put in water. Several "recipes" to prolong the life of the tree were tried, varying from sugar in the water to soluble aspirin, but they never seemed to have any noticeable effect: any attempt to swipe a chocolate sweet from a branch was rewarded by a tell-tale shower of pine needles.
I wasn't a very practically-minded child: it took me ages to discover that using scissors to snip the string holding the chocolate to the tree was far quicker and left much less in the way of evidence...
My mother had very beautiful Christmas decorations from Germany, and these were carefully unpacked each year. First thing on the tree was tinsel, and it had to be silver and fluffy, not rough, scraggy, scrawny tinsel. Occasionally silver angel-hair was added to the branches, just in small amounts. Then the baubles were hung up, and these were always silver, gold or red, or combinations of those colours.
My grandmother sent a parcel each Christmas, with a real Advent calendar, (Swiss chocolate shapes behind each window, not in a little box below) at a time when they were actually very rare in England (religious Advent calendars with chocolates in are still very rare here!) home-made biscuits, German sausage and salami, coffee and a few more decorations for the tree, as well as a supply of candles.
These candles are what I remember best. They were larger than cake candles, but much smaller than any candles sold here... I think they must have been about 1cm in diameter at a time when everything in England was measured in inches. I do remember that my mother tried to buy them from several places, and they weren't available anywhere, hence the need for the parcel. And the reason these candles were so important is that they had to fit into the little silver candle-holders which clipped onto the branches of the tree. My mother put the candles in the holders and then positioned them carefully so that they wouldn't set fire to any other decorations. It was quite time-consuming, because the weight of the candles would cause the branches to settle, and then the candle holders would have to be adjusted.
The candles would be lit for a short time once darkness fell, and a stray branch would be removed and burnt to release the pine-smell. This last practice very nearly resulted in a major catastrophe one year... as we sat down to Christmas dinner, my mother remarked on how lovely the smell of burnt pine was, and how it had lingered from the night before, so it was obviously a very superior pine tree... and then we noticed that a candle on the pine welsh dresser was actually burning a hole in the shelf...!
The final piece to be added was the "fairy" which was actually an angel. At one point, my mother switched to a star, but I can't remember when, or why. Personally, I prefer a star, simply because no-one can mistake it for a fairy (or anything else)
Ok, that's enough of my Christmas tree reminiscences for one year. I now have to tag a few poor souls...
Fr. Tim: he hasn't been tagged for a while, and his presbytery Christmas tree generally looks rather sorry for itself (the one in the church is gorgeous, but then, he doesn't have to decorate that one!)
Fr. Z, as I'm sure he has some stylish Christmas ornaments, and I want to know what they are in Latin!
The Pastor in Valle: I haven't nagged him for quite some time...
Fr. Owl: for much the same reason as the Pastor in Valle.
Fr. Longenecker: out of curiosity, as I want to know if there is anything in a British Christmas which he misses...
And, in fact, I tag anyone else who wants to play: just put a note in the combox!