The Christmas tree

Antique Christmas lights showing colored liquid. Photo provided by Ron Patch

My earliest memory of Christmas is 1955. I was four years old. I have just hazy visions of that day.

We always had a tree, although by today’s standard they weren’t much. Today balsam trees are widely available, but in the 1950s, many Christmas trees were spruce. More on spruce trees later.

When I was 13, my father and I went rabbit hunting up in Weston Island. We always had Beagles for rabbit dogs. I asked my father the night before if we could get a tree. “Sure” he said, “When we are done hunting.”

We hunted maybe four hours, getting a couple rabbits. On our way out of the woods we still didn’t have a tree and we didn’t have a saw. I mentioned this fact to Dad. “Don’t worry.” He said.

We came to a nice stand of young balsam. These trees were anywhere from five to 15 feet tall. Dad asked me to pick one out. I surveyed the trees and found one I liked. Dad took his 12-gauge shotgun about six inches from the base of the tree and pulled the trigger. Boom! It blew the tree clean off! I dragged the tree out of the woods to our 1962 Scout.

We had old-fashioned lights and ornaments for Christmas tree decorations. Many antique balls, some quite fancy. But what I remember the most were the lights we had. The photo with this article shows two of these old Christmas lights. The first thing you’ll notice are the glass tubes, not plastic, that are filled with a colored liquid. The bases come in different colors, and designs. These bases light up adding more color to our tree.

What made these lights fascinating for a young boy was when we plugged them in. Inside the colored plastic base is the lightbulb. Heat from the lightbulb caused the colored liquid in the glass tube to bubble. I remember watching the liquid bubble with great fascination. I think these lights have been reproduced today.

We had a good assortment of glass bulbs to hang on the tree. I still remember a couple. One was probably two inches in diameter with Santa in his sleigh circling the globe. It was bright colored with a frosted portion to simulate snow.

Spruce trees

Back to spruce trees. Spruce trees have shorter more sparse needles than balsam trees. We had an old fashion tree stand that had a built in bowl for water. The outside base of the stand was decorated with Christmas scenes.

We kept water in the bowl to prevent the tree from drying out. Ha! It was also believed putting an aspirin in the water helped prevent the tree from drying out. Another Ha! A spruce tree dries out quickly, causing needles to drop to the floor. These pesky little needles could be with us long after the tree had been retired.

How so, you may wonder. If you were in stocking feet, these needles had a way of finding you. Your socks would pick up the needles, when they promptly stung your toes. These things you don’t forget. I’m sure others will remember.

My father’s family tradition was to exchange gifts after dark on Christmas Eve. Christmas day we always went to my sister Norma’s house on Green Street in Bellows Falls. They always had a scotch pine tree. They were full and very bushy. Dinner was served at 1 p.m. What a spread it was. Turkey, ham, mashed potato with stuffing and gravy, squash, fresh bread, and everything else you could think of, including turnip. I never liked turnip.

Norma’s husband Louie had several relatives who always came. Louie had a half-sister, I don’t recall her name, and an aunt and uncle who were always there. I don’t remember the uncle’s name now, maybe Buster, but Louie’s aunt was Ida.

The kitchen was busy with women preparing the meal, baking pies, and lots of chit-chat. There was a good size dining table for the adults. Us kids sat at card tables off to the side. There were mountains of food. No one went home hungry.

What I remember about Ida is she would get a little tipsy along about dinner time. She must have had a flask, probably in her purse. By dinner time she was getting right.

These are some of my memories of over 60 years. Merry Christmas.

This week’s old saying is from George Carlin: “The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.”

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