Most people can remember one or more Christmas traditions. The older we get, the more of them we can remember. My list is long!
When I was a child, we were among the nation’s most poor. We had the advantage, of course, of being rednecks. No matter what we needed, we would find a day to create it from the resources available. Take decorations for our Christmas tree, most of our decorations were made from things at hand, with a small inventory of paint, glitter and glue.
The first and probably most important step is choosing the tree. It had to be a cedar tree. No pine or spruce was allowed. A cedar tree was completely natural. It grew in the proper shape without trimming or shaping. The best tree came from a pasture where cattle had kept the surrounding growth grazed and trampled down. That way, the tree was full on all sides. No thin spots from shadowed areas.
We kids had the entire area for a playground, woods, pastures, swamps and creeks. We always kept a lookout for potential Christmas trees and when the time came to harvest a tree for our house, we knew exactly where to go.
Mother would usually get a pack of construction paper. This pack contained a mixture of colors, red, green, yellow and blue. The paper would be cut into strips, then glued together into chains to drape around the tree. We would string popcorn using strong thread and a large needle from mother’ sewing machine. Small pinecones and sweet gum balls were cleaned and painted with sparkle sprinkled on them.
Father’s cigarette packs contained a paper liner with a thin layer of tin foil to keep out moisture and odors. With care, this foil could be separated from the paper then cut into fine strips for icicles. Finally, kerosene lamps would be placed on small tables on either side to light the tree and highlight the sparkle.
Our Christmas trees were special, because they were our own creation. Just imagine parents and kids sitting around the table making paper chains, stringing popcorn, coloring sweet-gum balls while nibbling on Christmas tree shaped cookies and drinking cold milk. Imagine the conversations we had about hope for Christmas presents and that big dinner we had been saving for. Remember the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible, and singing of carols that made our parents and relatives so happy.
We were judged as the poorest people in America. But we did not know that. On Christmas Eve with our family gathered around our hand-decorated tree, we were wealthy beyond all imagination.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://www.frankgillispie.com/gillispieonline.