(First posted 12/25/2012. Updated for its 50th year) Some families are more traditional than others; I suppose mine is more traditional than most, something that is really brought out during the Christmas holiday. For example, how many families have a Christmas tree in its fiftieth year of service? Probably not that many. We have covered things other than cars here on CC, so for this year’s holiday, why not a classic Christmas tree?
The story of our tree starts at a difficult time following my parents separation in the fall of 1966. When Christmas rolled around that year, my mother did what most of us would do in that spot, namely exactly what we did in 1965. That meant a real Christmas tree. The problem was that a real tree required a neighbor’s assistance to set up and later remove. The next year would be different.
I am not sure where she purchased it, but Mom proudly bought an artificial tree in 1967. I remember that an artificial tree was almost a luxury item in those days. The one she chose was an eight-foot tall Scotch pine that cost quite a lot of money. The big green Scotch pine may not have been the Cadillac of Christmas trees, but it was at least a good, solid Buick. Its biggest benefit was that she could set it up all by herself: there were just two pole sections and a bunch of individual branches with wire ends that fit into holes. I recall Mom’s friends ooh-ing and aah-ing over that tree the first few years.
The tree was made by Consolidated Novelty Co., of Paterson, NJ, and Amsterdam NY. The company was a longtime maker of novelty decorations and apparently quite a player during the 1960s aluminum Christmas tree fad. Those of you over 50 undoubtedly remember them. We had neighbors who had one, and I loved watching the thing change colors as the disc with the four colored plastic lenses slowly revolved in front of the floodlight. But since we were traditional people, there would be no aluminum tree in our house.
The company seems to have been active at least into the mid-1970s (at that time it was actively litigating patent issues), but apparently it went out of business. I guess you just can’t sell a lot of fake Christmas trees in the USA anymore.
By the late 1980s, Mom had grown tired of hauling the bazillion branches out of the 5′ x 3′ x 3′ box in the garage, and she bought a smaller tree. By then I had my own house, and happily accepted her offer of a free Christmas tree. With the sole exception of 1992 (when Mrs. JPC and I got some new furniture in our old, small house and the thing simply wouldn’t fit), the old tree has graced our living room every other year since.
As luck would have it, Mom got tired of many of the old ornaments when she got tired of the old tree, so they too have stayed in service. You know that ornaments are old when they read “Made in USA” –and in New York and New Jersey, even. Many of them date back to the late 1950s when my parents were first married.
By the mid-’60s, we even got some fancy European imports. An obscure little stamp on one of the boxes indicates that the “finest craftsmen of Europe” actually resided in Czechoslovakia. Who knew? There is very little post-1970s content on this tree.
Except for a few years when the kids were small and we kept the old breakable decorations boxed up, we have continued putting these oldies on the tree every year. A few of them bear the scars of too many years in close proximity to one of the 50 hot C7 light bulbs that used to grace the tree. (This is my one concession to modernity – there is just no reason to tolerate the massive amount of heat generated by those old-style light bulbs, which likely will disappear soon anyhow.) The current set was chosen by Mrs. JPC in the early 1990s.
Actually, there is one other big change from the early days: No more individual strands of tinsel. In the first place, tinsel just hasn’t been worth a damn since they stopped making it out of lead. The plastic stuff has no weight to it and doesn’t hang decently. What’s more, there’s no less pleasant task than removing temporary strands of plastic tinsel from eleventy-six permanent tree branches.
As you can see, the decorated tree has a decidedly retro look. Actually, that was not intentional, but is something that just sort of happened over the years. Every family’s Christmas tree has a unique look: Some are themed, some are covered with decorations made by the kids and others evolve from year to year. We like the old-style, shiny-glass look.
My three children have remained very much engaged in the annual tree decorating. Over the last year or so I have suggested some changes, ranging from using different lights to possibly replacing the old tree altogether; you’d think that I had suggested murdering their mother. No sir, we will not be replacing the old tree, nor its lights or decorations any time soon. So even though I know you can buy a much more lifelike artificial tree today, and that real trees have made quite a comeback in status over the last 20 or 30 years, I guess we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. However, there will come the day when all my extra labor will have gone off to new homes, and then it may be time to pass this old tree (and its giganto-box) on to another generation, providing there is any interest. In all honesty, however, I think there might be a fight.