As I placed the plastic pine-like garland on our mantle last week, embellishing it with wooden Santa figurines and nutcrackers, my mind floated back in time to my childhood — to a time when we decorated our home with simplicity and pride. It was a time of love and traditions that I will always treasure.
THE SILVER TREE WITH THE BLUE SPOTLIGHT
I still remember it nearly five decades later, turning slowly in the middle archway of our Spanish, ranch-style house’s front porch. Illuminated with a bright blue spotlight, I thought the silver Christmas tree was the most magnificent Christmas decoration I had ever seen. It shined and shimmered with grand opulence like something out of the future, made from the same aluminum material that manufacturers used to make tinsel icicles. While other neighbors hung strands of flashing Christmas lights along the eaves of their homes, around the windows, and in the tree branches of their yards, the 6-foot silver Christmas tree with the blue spotlight was our only exterior decoration for several years, and I loved it.
Then one year, Mom ordered a plastic nativity scene for the front yard. The pieces were large and colorful in the shapes of Mary, Joseph, a lamb, a camel, three wise men bearing gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh), and of course, a tiny plastic replica of the baby Jesus. A single electric light bulb was fed into the back side of each plastic figure to illuminate them in the moonlight. Each year, we turned a redwood picnic table on its side and draped the top with pine limbs to construct a makeshift manger scene. We placed Jesus, along with kneeling Mary and Joseph, at the center underneath the pine boughs. We scattered hay all around the front yard to give it an authentic barn feel. Last but not least, we hung a big, bright star over the manger to simulate the Star of Bethlehem cited in the Book of Matthew.
Back then, we had a medium-sized Old English Sheepdog mix named “Boaz.” One year, Boaz nestled himself in the hay and slept beside the baby Jesus on several cool December nights. He became part of the nativity scene, and we laughed every time we saw him sleeping there.
OLD TIMEY GUMDROP TREE
My Grandmother Jarriel always had a gumdrop tree in her house outside of Collins during the holidays, and at some point, my sister and I started constructing gumdrop trees of our own. My father (an avid outdoorsman) was always charged with finding a sturdy branch with lots of thorns to bring home to us (I can’t remember what kind of bush the thorny branches came from — maybe Hawthorne). Anyway, my sister and I anchored the branch in a pot of sand or dirt, then stuck the multicolored gumdrops on each and every thorn, being careful not to pierce our fingertips with its sharp spikes. Ouch! When we finished, we placed our work of art on the center of the kitchen table. The sugar crystals on each gumdrop glistened in the morning sunlight that streamed in through the kitchen window. We couldn’t resist eating the gumdrops as we passed by it every day, and so most evenings, we had to put more gumdrops on its prickly branches. It was a s delicious as it was lovely.
CERAMIC CHRISTMAS TREE One November, Mom brought home a 15-inch clay Christmas tree figure from Brown’s Ceramic Shop. She sanded it and removed the mold lines with her sharp tool, then rubbed it lightly with a wet sponge. After it was fired, Mom painted it. After it was fired again, it finally took on the appearance of a Christmas tree with its glossy evergreen finish.
She popped in dozens of multicolored plastic pieces into the holes on each ce-
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ramic branch, along with a plastic star on the top. She fed a small lamp light through a hole in the back and plugged it in. It was stunning!
The little ceramic tree decorated our home for many years, along with mistletoe hung in our foyer, Christmas cards taped to a door, and of course, the big green Eastern cedar tree we embellished with lights, round Christmas ornaments wound with red, shimmery silk threads, and handfuls of tinsel each year.
The Christmas decorations I unbox each year pale in comparison to the simple decorations of my childhood, but still, they help me get into the spirit of the season. I hope each of you finds comfort in the sweet holiday memories that flood your mind this year. May you look back at your childhood Christmases and smile at the simplicity of it all, the beauty and magic we experienced, and the love we felt from those around us.