Yes, the tree is artificial. About ten years ago, we learned the real thing is bad for our allergies, which was a terrible shock to our Christmas tradition. Then someone pointed out to us that the Christmas tree wasn't really a part of the Christmas story anyway. It was pagan --another thing like holly, mistletoe and poinsettias which has more to do with Druids and the winter soltice than the Nativity. Like them, it was incorporated into Christmas.
Legend has it that St. Boniface, missionary among the Germanic Druids, was reponsible. He supposedly cut down a holy oak of the pagans and found a small evergreen behind it. Then he said:
''This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your homes are built of the fir. It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shlter no deed of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.''
The birthplace of the modern Christmas
tree was probably along the upper Rhine River in Germany during the 15th or 16th century. The tree was first decorated with apples and small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist. Later, the wafers were replaced by
little pieces of pastry cut in the shapes of stars, angels and bells.
The tree was brought to America by the
Germans who settled in Pennsylvania; the first mention of one was in December, 1821. It became a centerpiece of the family celebration and was hung with all manner of items --
handkerchiefs, little books, toy soldiers, fruit and miniature horses and wagons. Wax candles were tied on and lighted. As the years
went by, strings of popcorn, cranberries, cotton for snow, painted eggshells, and eventually mass-produced gilt ornaments and electric lights were used; and the wrapped boxes of presents were piled underneath.
On Blaine Avenue, we always had a tree.
It was at least six feet high and placed directly in front of the big front window where people passing by could see it and enjoy it, too.
Try as we might, my sister Sue and I can't remember where the trees came from. Were there tree lots? There must have been, but darned if we can remember where. I suspect the reason we can't remember is because Dad never had the patience to take us along when he bought our tree. He would just bring one home, tied to the top of the car, and stash it
upright in water for a night or two on our enclosed back porch.
Eventually, he'd carry it around the house and bring it in through the front door to deposit in the weird concrete and metal stand we used to hold it. He'd get it straight (with lots of advice from the rest of us) then put on the lights --the old, big bulb kind --muttering as he tried to find and replace the burnt-out ones that kept the whole string from working. Finally, he'd turn the tree over to Mom, Sis and me to put on the ornaments and tinsel. Mom put on each strand of tinsel carefully, but Sue and I liked to fling it on.
We never got a flocked tree and the same ornaments were used year after year. The light bulbs were replaced, but Sis found a few spares recently that have been tucked away for decades. Like our neighbors, we usually took our tree down around New Year's; and if there was snow, the curbside snowbanks would sprout a new forest of evergreens along Blaine Avenue --tinsel blowing forlornly in the winds of January.
Today, Christmas trees are a form of agribusiness, raised on massive farms and
trucked hundreds of miles to supermarkets and lots to be sold at high prices. Thankfully, there remain some farms where you can go to cut your own; the price is still high but the experience counts for something --especially with kids.
Yes, real or not, a tree and decorations make a home and heart brighter at Yuletide.