We have our German ancestors to thank for the tradition of the Christmas tree. The tree has long been the star of Christmas decorations in the home. Stories from the "Little House on the Prairie" era record the use of Christmas trees with homemade ornaments.
One year when I was teaching, we had a "Little House" Christmas in our room. I was reading one of the books to the children during the time, so it seemed appropriate to follow it up with a different kind of celebration.
I think the parents wondered if I knew what I was doing, but it took the emphasis off the giving and receiving of gifts. The children either had to make something for the person whose name they drew or give a simple Christmas ornament. I still have many of the ornaments that I received that year. I put the name of the giver on each one so I remember who they were from.
This year my tree is a memory tree. I used all of these ornaments that I could find plus some small wooden ones that I painted to use on our Christmas tree when we lived in the trailer. I chose wooden ones because they were not breakable. If the tree toppled over in our limited space I just needed to set it back up.
I have enough ornaments that I cannot put everything out each season so there are always choices to make. Now I have a tabletop tree so my use of ornaments is limited. When we had the large trees I used a lot more things.
We always had a memory tree when the children were young. They made ornaments in school, beginning with their preschool years. Each year each child was allowed to put his/her own ornaments on the tree. My husband and I each had a special ornament that we added. Dick's was a fat red Santa that he received as a gift from his Aunt Evie. My special ornament was a fat little elf that was made of glass. I always made sure that made it up high on the tree so one of the pets would not knock it off. I also had a small Rudolph that one of my great-aunts bought me on one of our shopping expeditions.
Now, one of my special ornaments is one that I bought for my husband on our 25th anniversary. It was a picture ornament, so I used a picture of the two of us that I had at the time. When I put it on the tree I do not remember the trials of our married years or the illness that caused my husband's untimely death; I remember the good times, and that is how it should be.
We never had a tree like they picture in the magazines. Our tree when I was growing up had strings of all-colored lights the size of night light bulbs. We used mostly glass ornaments. Grandpa always bought a small tree, but set it up on a large wooden box so it seemed taller. He had some hooks fastened into a window frame so that he anchored it with those. The tree stand was a small, circular one that did not hold much water. I was designated to crawl under the tree each day to replenish the water.
Once the tree was decorated, I enjoyed just sitting back to look at the lights. The Christmas tree was magical. Somehow it does not seem so magical to me at this date. It is a lot of work to put the regular room decorations away and get out all of the Christmas things. Now, my tree has all white lights - it came that way. Once I finished putting it up this year, I was pleased with the result. I did a lot of reminiscing as the old ornaments went on.
With the advent of the eternal Christmas trees, the decorating begins much sooner. Many people put up their tree just after Thanksgiving. Mine just went up, and it will stay in place until more than a week after Christmas.
A set of small Christmas trees came to me from my grandparents. We always put them on the piano in the living room. The neat thing about these trees is that they only take one small bulb. The "lights" are small glass pieces that are painted on the inside so they appear to have many colors. They are one of the favorite things that I have from home.
When I grew up, we did not have a village. My husband started my village for me one Christmas, and it has grown from there. I now have so many houses and buildings that I cannot put them all out on the television cabinet. I divided the scene into two parts a country scene with a house, barn and animals and a city scene with little shops and people bustling about. I have tried to mark each item so that I remember who I got it from. The littlest one was pleased when he turned over a piece when he was helping me assemble my village and found his name on the bottom. I told him he gave that to me, so he gave it a prominent place in the city.
My manger scene is under the tree. Since I no longer have little ones, I put the whole thing together when I put up the tree, but we used to add a piece a day, making it a celebration of the advent season.
I hope that your tree has some special ornaments. Do not fret if it is not the kind of tree pictured in the magazine. Celebrate the uniqueness of your very own special family tree.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.