Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Memories of old Christmas trees...

God the price of Christmas trees! Un–fircone–believable!

We bought our Christmas tree at the weekend, a six-footer, a traditional Norway spruce, a nice bushy one. Twenty-two pounds and fifty pence seems a lot to spend, but considering that a Nordman fir (which I insist on calling Norman) was almost double that - well, I had to get my wallet out and be grateful.

Every year I talk about buying artificial; a really good one, none of these supermarket nine ninety-nine jobbies. I’ve seen some constructed (as they advertise them) trees at our local garden centre that are so real that they make the real trees look like plastic, but then at a hundred quid plus a time so they should. Mind you if I put my sensible head on an artificial tree would have paid for itself within four years.

Thing is, no matter how it looks it would still be artificial, and there’s the storage to consider. No pine needles to vacuum up though; but nothing to burn on the fire after Christmas is over, and of course no beautiful, sharp pine smell to fill the room. I love the smell of Christmas – but that’s for another post.

We always had a real tree when I was a kid. Sometimes it wasn’t very big, bought from the greengrocer on North Street for five bob. Five bob, twenty-five pence - hard to believe now. We’d spend hours decorating it with silver tinsel and foil covered chocolate sweets – soldiers, Santas, reindeers, the whole caboodle, and the ancient glass ball decorations that belonged to my mother’s mother.

“Don’t break that one. I’ve had it for years.” She’d warn. And then one day someone did, me probably - the pink, blue, and cream of the carefully painted sphere of glass in shatters on the carpet. I think she cried, my dad shouted. It was a special thing I guess.

Every year my mum would tell me about the pine branch my dad had cut for her and how she had decorated it lovingly with paper wrapped matchboxes and cotton reels. When they were first married they lived in a caravan and had no money, it was the best they could do, and it was freezing in that caravan. But they still had a tree. It’s the most romantic story I have ever heard, trying to keep warm in a caravan with a Christmas branch. Hard to believe that it happened now. Perhaps her special ball had something to do with that time, I don’t know.

Later, when I’d left home and flown, the first Christmas tree of my ‘adult’ life was bought from Ironbridge market one cold, frosty, Saturday morning for three quid. We spent ages choosing it, Titiania and me. It needed to be small enough to fit in the back of her Fiat 500. We drove it with us that first (and as it turned out our last) college Christmas back to Oxfordshire fully decorated to spend the holidays at home. What a drive that was, the tree, the ice, the getting lost - then home for Christmas, us pair, for the first and last time.

Still later I bought an artificial tree in a Birmingham department store (Lewis’s – the tree was state of the art) for forty quid (a fortune). It really was a very good one and we used it for years, piling the presents under the silk fir boughs. But eventually the longing for a real tree became too strong again and I ventured into town one dark morning and bought one on the market. I had to bring it home on the bus which caused quite a stir. They didn’t come wrapped in white netting sleeves back then and I got chucked off the bus. I walked the last three miles to Perry Barr carrying the tree in my arms, they were completely numb when I eventually arrived.

The first Christmas tree we bought in Wales was from outside the Florist in Pwllheli. We liked its shape, it wasn’t too tall or too wide, our first ‘Norman’ I think - and it was very reasonably priced at eight pounds. It was only after we got it home that we wondered if the chap who I’d asked about the price of the tree (and who took our money) worked for the shop at all or was just an opportunist bystander.

I dream of going out into the wilds and finding my own tree. I don’t mean buying one from a forest, choosing it and then having it cut down by some forestry lad with a chainsaw. I mean going out into the wilds with my own saw and cutting it myself.

Stealing it if you will.

In my imagined tree stealing expedition I walk into a moonlit glade surrounded by tall pines and there in the very centre, lit by moonlight, is my tree all glistening with frost and sparkling with winter magic. On the top of my tree, where we would place our special star once I’d dragged it home, sits a robin singing his heart out in the moonlight – and then it begins to snow.

Every year I plan to make this dream come true, but instead I buy a tree; complaining about the price, and bring it home to stand in our green tree-holder pot, filling it with a gallon of water so that the tree will last and not drop too early. Each year is different and I like a different tree each year, a real one, those artificial years didn't quite feel right. I like to have a small part of nature in the house - some greenery from the forest, the spirit of Christmas maybe inside our Christmas tree.

So, we have our tree bought and ready for this Christmas. All that remains is to dress it with our own special baubles, bows, and birds, as we do each year… and that’s yet another post I think.


  1. We've got a green tree-holder like that, and at some stage every year the tree topples over... I was planning to chuck it out and get a new one, unless you have any suggestions?

  2. Ours did once. See that pipe at the back? I usually secure it to that with wire. I haven't bothered this year though as it seemed so sturdy.

    I hope I don't get to Wales on Friday and find the carpet soaked with water.

  3. way too early to put your tree up AKH - it's the 12 days of Christmas and the last of those is 6th Jan!!!! BTW bit worried about that radiator being so close.

  4. Sean Wood commented on Facebook:

    Artificial with built in lights. Looks realistic and we have had it 7 yrs now so it has been value for money

  5. Tricia Kitt commented on Facebook:

    Natalie brought home a Christmas tree in 2001 from Delamere Forest - it was 2 inches high - it's now 12 foot and has lights on (on the front drive, we haven't moved it!)

  6. We have to have our tree and decorations up for the 12th. It is Gaynor's birthday, so HAS to be done. Buying the tree a week earlier but leaving it in waiting is just good planning.

  7. For the last three years we have had a holly Xmas tree. There is a holly tree in the garden which was getting too big. It had the classic conical shape so I cut off the top 6 ft & we decorated it like a normal Xmas tree. It looked great & there were no dropped needles. Over the following year it grew a new conical top which I cut again. I will be cutting this year's at the weekend. Hope it keeps going every year. In the other room we have dogwood twigs (which are naturally bright red) with some simple white lights in a stainless steel container. Hasn't cost a penny.

  8. Sounds nice My Lloyd how about a picture on Facebook?

  9. Della Jayne Roberts commented on Facebook:

    Neither this year .... commuting weekly between Canberra and NSW has helped to make me decide that we will decorate the mantel, coffee table etc with decorations (maybe even some lights - stars from Ikea) - but I'm not getting the artificial tree down (too big and heavy) from here and lugging it to Canberra. Anyway, it doesn't feel like Christmas (although the weather is decidedly wet and dark and miserable for summer) so 'bah humbug' (I still miss Everton Mints and the mixed pack of mints I always bought from the service station for long journeys) .. Sister Della

  10. Della Jayne Roberts commented on Facebook:

    "I watched; Heston Blumenthal's Perfect Christmas and Willie's Perfect Chocolate Christmas .... all to do with 'smells/traditions/etc' of Christmas. Not the same memories for Australian's who have never experienced a winter Christmas .... it just isn't the same ... :O) I remember those 'special' Christmas baubles"

  11. We are having our first Christmas in 5 years at home this year. The children are very excited. We went out and reserved our tree at the local tree growers ... it’s an 8 footer! and I am now wondering if it is such a good idea. The benefits of buying from our local tree grower is we can collect it when we like, so it will be chopped down 3-4 days before Christmas, and we are supporting local businesses! Ted and the boys will drag it into the house... sap and needles everywhere ... and mummy will spend the day making Xmas Cookies to hang on it... looking forward to it already!

  12. We've had an artificial one since the kids left home. Each year I say I'm not going to bother and then I do. Green tree and red decorations, very traditional. I hate those awful black trees with black decoraations. Yuk!