Sure they do.
For a month or more, a Christmas tree stands in a corner, in a window or in the middle of a room, and without uttering a sound, speaks volumes about the person who decorated it.
We leave a little of us on every thing we touch. The clothes we wear, where we live, our job, our car, what we pursue in life and what we consider important. In everything we do, there is our footprint. A Christmas tree is no different. Doesn’t matter who or what you attempt to project yourself being. Doesn’t matter who you want to be. Your Christmas tree reveals who you really are.
If this sounds trivial, that’s because it is, but it’s true. It came to me while I was out walking the day after Thanksgiving and glimpsed a beautiful Douglas-Fir standing in the big picture window of a residence.
I didn’t look long. The tree was embarrassed enough already, having to literally be on display in this window 24/7 nearly naked, without me gawking, too.
There it stood, its expansive branches adorned in white cloth ribbons, California sunshine and nothing else. No toy soldiers, no gingerbread men, little Santas, candy canes, bells, angels or even the most regular bulb ornament; no beads, assorted garnish and no lights. Remember icicles? None of those, either. Days later, it still looks this way. A barren tree in need of an intervention, though it’s none of my business. Its owners obviously dig a naked Christmas tree.
If you always insist on a really tall Christmas tree, that says something about you. What, I don’t know, but it’s got to mean something. Are people who prefer the scrawny little “Charlie Brown” trees more compassionate than those preferring one the size of Shaquille? You tell me. Still, I believe you can learn a lot about a person from their Christmas tree.
When I was a kid, except to pay for it, Daddy had nothing to do with the Christmas tree process. it was Mama who served as tree warden, always seeing to it that we got our tree the first weekend after Thanksgiving.
Tony, my younger brother, and I would bundle up, walk with her around the corner to the Safeway serving Oklahoma City’s predominantly black east side, and pick a tree from those being sold in the parking lot. The one we chose always seemed about ten feet tall.
It took the three of us to get it home, up the stairs and inside our small second floor apartment. How there was space for a good sized tree in a one bedroom abode already hosting five kids and two parents, is a feat of science and love that I’ll never quite grasp. But we did it.
Against a backdrop of Christmas music on the radio or whatever yuletide special was on the TV-–Perry Como or maybe Andy Williams–-we’d decorate the tree, whose evergreen redolence would overtake the place.
Tree trimming has its psychology. There are leaders and there are worker bees. Unwittingly, people align themselves accordingly. Disagreements aren’t uncommon (“All I’m sayin’ is, you got too many lights on that side…”), but they didn’t happen at home. Mama ran the show, with us kids either emulating what she did, or doing as she directed us. She wasn’t a kitchen sink kind of tree trimmer. She didn’t believe in bogging down a tree with a lot of stuff. Our trees were full, but not cluttered.
When we finished, we’d turn out the living room lights and sit proudly gazing at our lit creation while sipping eggnog and munching homemade decorated sugar cookies shaped like Christmas trees. Our tree suggested tradition and style.
At some point, we stopped buying real trees and got an easy-to-assemble contraption comprised of a pole and branches made of synthetic green pine needles. This was the late ’60s, well into the Space Age. Not only was prefab not a dirty word, it denoted a certain modernity. We loved seeing the expressions of friends after we’d reveal the truth. What that tree said about us was “Hey, the ‘tree’ looks real and we’re saving money.”
However, our fake green tree was alive and breathing compared to the aluminum Christmas tree. Those came along in the ’50s and peaked in popularity in the mid ’60s.
I’d see them in barber shops and sitting on information desks in the lobbies of office buildings, basking in the glow of the revolving multicolored light plate that sat at the foot of the tree. I seem to recall aluminum trees somehow being a bourgeoisie thing.
You might add to it as an adult, but whatever you learn at home about decorating a tree is pretty much what you take with you out into the world. Trim a tree and discover in the style of your handiwork the memories of your childhood. Whenever we trim a tree, we reach back to a certain time in our lives. Or run away from it.
Me, I broke with the tradition of buying a tree years ago. Nevertheless, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t have one. Dozens of them, actually. Every tree I see throughout the holidays, wherever I find it, I embrace as my own.
Especially the short ones and the scrawny ones and those that stand in windows, begging for somebody’s patience and imagination. And any tree with a star on top. No matter the condition of any particular Christmas, our tree always had a star.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]