OPINION: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

There are moments when the world around me is very quiet, and it is occasionally during those moments when visions of that God-awful aluminum Christmas tree find their way into my head. Well, at least my mother thought it to be God-awful. I, on the other hand, could have cared less about the material used to construct the tree. The raw material could have been recycled tires for all I cared. I was more interested in the brightly wrapped presents under it, especially those gifts with my name on them.

I was no more than 10 or 11 when my father came home with that boxed cardboard container of metal, but sometimes it seems as though it was only last Christmas. I often tell myself that my poor recollection might just be the result of old age and nothing more. Who can say?

I don't mean to regress and go over old business, but I do seem to recall that some time back, I told you about the tree and my mother's covert method of disposing of the wretched thing. Enough said about that particular tree.

As I recall, for a couple of years after that experience, our family enjoyed real trees during the Christmas season. This was at my mother's absolute insistence and much to my father's chagrin. He just couldn't overcome his aversion to paying for something he considered so unnecessary.

But enough about my childhood and that shiny fake. This is a story about Christmas trees, real and artificial, but by no means aluminum. I suppose one might argue that they are the single most recognizable Christmas traditions of all.

When Robin and I were first married, we moved into a one-bedroom less-than-spacious apartment. It was at the end of October 1967, and I will never forget how, although money was hard to come by, we so looked forward to Christmas shopping that year of our first Christmas together.

We divided our time Thanksgiving Day between her parents and mine but, as I recall, most of the conversation and future planning centered around Christmas eve and the following day. By all accounts, it was going to be the best Christmas ever, at least for Robin and me.

November and Thanksgiving passed quite uneventfully for the two of us, and it was then in the second week of December when Robin posed the most important question of all to me.

"Should we get a tree?"

I was taken aback by the question for, at least in my mind, the answer was so very obvious.

"Sure, are you kidding?"

Her next question also seemed unnecessary.

"Do you want a real tree or an artificial one?"

Once more, I was surprised at her lack of genuine Christmas spirit.

"I can't believe you even had to ask that question. We need a real tree and it should be a nice full large one. We'll need to get a stand, some lights, and ornaments and, of course, lots of tinsel."

I could see the wheels in Robin's head spinning as she tallied the cost of all those items, so I got ahead of her.

"It shouldn't cost all that much, and we can reuse everything but the tree and tinsel every year."

I don't know if my words put her mind at ease, but she agreed with the plan.

That year, and for several ensuing years, we traveled to Christmas tree lots and purchased genuine Christmas trees. We had two sons who seemed, much like me when I was young, far more interested in the cache of presents below the tree than the composition of the tree itself. Celebrating events with live greenery was by no means anything new.

A publication printed in Germany in 1531 was the first to refer to Christmas trees although the idea of bringing greenery indoors for the purpose of celebrating special events dates to the time of the Druids and early Egyptians. In the 1700s, those living in Austria and Germany brought evergreen tips indoors. These bits of evergreen were then hung upside down from the ceiling and decorated with edible ornaments such as apples and nuts.

The idea of displaying trees during the Christmas season came to this country with the influx of German settlers in the early 1800s. In 1851, commercially-sold trees made their first appearance in this country when Mark Carr opened his Christmas tree lot in New York. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce is thought to be the first United States President who placed a Christmas tree inside the White House.

It is thought that the first Christmas tree farm was started in 1901. W.V. McGalliard planted twenty-five thousand Norway spruce trees on his farm in New Jersey. Robin and I were by far not the first to celebrate the holiday with a genuine tree.

I can't explain it but, as the years passed and the boys aged, the Christmas cheer that Robin and I once shared was replaced with a mundane sense of practicality. It was then that all thoughts of a real tree were abandoned, and we entered the era of using artificial trees for the holiday. But we were by far not the first to use one of these imposters.

The first recorded use of an artificial tree dates to 1747. The German Moravian Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, constructed wooden pyramids which were thought to loosely resemble trees. These candle-lit pyramids were used during the Christmas season.

A widely accepted and used version of the artificial Christmas tree was developed in the 19th century. These German-made fakes were made of green-dyed goose feathers. The trees continued to gain popularity and, in the 19th century, the artificial trees found their way to the United States.

In 1883 Sears, Roebuck & Company got into the artificial tree sales business. For the price of fifty cents, one could buy a tree with thirty-three limbs and for the more enthusiastic Christmas-motivated souls, trees with fifty-five limbs could be had for an even one dollar.

For quite some time now, I have dispensed with the seasonal tradition of having a Christmas tree. I do, on the other hand, have two internally illuminated ceramic trees. One rests atop a lamp table while the other sits on the sofa table situated just behind the piece of furniture itself. I'm proud to state to you that the latter one has a Santa and sleigh pulled by reindeer which circles the tree -- quite captivating if I do say so.

I must say one last thing about my father's previously mentioned metal monstrosity. Unlike the very old and hallowed tradition of bringing greenery into the home, my father's idea of bringing aluminum into the house never quite caught on. Thank God.

-- Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents, who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.