Growing up, we never had an artificial Christmas tree—or a cut one, for that matter. Instead, about a week before Christmas, my parents would haul in a balled or potted evergreen that we’d add to the landscape after the holidays. Daddy said it made “good cents.” Mother said it was a meaningful tradition.
After we maneuvered the heavy tree into the house, Mother would conceal the bulky container with white flannel to make it look like snow. Daddy would string the lights, and over the tree’s boughs, my sister and I would drape red and green paper chains, strings of popcorn and cranberries, and other baubles we fashioned out of shiny red, green, silver and blue milk-bottle caps. Then we would hang tinsel—weaving one strand at a time between the needles—until our tree sparkled.
It took a long time, but decorating the tree was an exciting family event, and after we finished we’d gather around the piano to drink eggnog and sing Christmas carols.
On a warm Saturday morning after New Year’s Day, we’d all go into the backyard, pick a site and plant our Christmas tree, making sure to water it thoroughly to protect it against the January freezes that were sure to come.
Each year, the yard got a little woodsier as we continued to add new spruce or pine specimens. On summer afternoons when we’d play croquet or hide-and-seek in our evergreen grove, it was fun to discover birds’ nests in the branches and recall “this Christmas” or “that Christmas.” Best of all, on warm evenings, we loved to sit in lawn chairs and watch the fireflies flit in and out of the branches, as if trying to create their own Christmas tree light display.
One summer afternoon—some 40 years later—I drove by that childhood home and slowed down to savor the memories. The new owners were working in their yard, but when they saw me they stopped and came over to talk. When I told them that I had grown up there, they took me on a tour. The porch, front door and fireplace looked exactly the same. The kitchen had been updated, and the screened-in back porch was now a four-season room. When we walked into the backyard, I caught my breath and fought back a tear. I was standing in a forest. The couple explained they were from California and had been drawn to the home because of the huge evergreens out back.
When I walked over to admire a Colorado blue spruce, a glint of silver caught my eye. I could hardly believe it, but sure enough, a strand of weathered tinsel was still wrapped around a branch, sparkling in the sun.
Somehow, through almost half a century of Oklahoma heat and cold, that remnant of our holiday tradition survived, much like my fond memories of our backyard Christmas trees—memories that have become more treasured with each passing year.