HAYDEN HOLLINGSWORTH: The Last Christmas Tree

Hayden Hollingsworth

A trip to Walmart, $29.95, and I had bought my last Christmas tree.  I am not expecting to exit soon, but this artificial 4 ½ foot pre-lighted cutie is going to outlast me.  The whole escapade put in mind the history of Christmas trees in my four score of years.

At age two, as I remember, if you wanted a tree to decorate you went to some friendly cow pasture and dad whacked down a cedar tree.  The idea of buying a tree would be years in coming.  In the aforementioned cow pasture lived a large and fearsome bull who took exception to our intrusion so my sister and I were stashed in a ditch while dad chopped down the tree.  On bringing it into the house we found that it had grown about two feet and required additional amputation to clear the ceiling.  I don’t recall the whole event as thrilling, but once the lights were on it did appear slightly magical.

After the war, enterprising farmers started filling every vacant lot with cedar trees and later white pine.  For only $5 one avoided the bull in the pasture and the thrash of transportation from a distant field.  There were always more trees for sale than were bought so we were treated to the sad spectacle of dying abandoned tree lots for a week or so after Christmas.

Then came the advent of the artificial tree which, from a hundred yards, bore a slight resemblance to the real McCoy.  Briefly seen were trees appearing to be made of shredded Reynolds wrap. They were manufactured in Manitowoc, WI and were wildly popular in the mid-nineteen-fifties.  Recently, I heard the plant went out of business after just a few years but the shredded silver trees have become quite valuable on EBay. Unfortunately, I trashed my parents’ relic after they moved to a retirement home.

No longer were people satisfied with a scrubby tree from some farmer’s back lot and Christmas tree farms appeared.  Not only were the trees pruned to perfection, there were many species from which to choose.  Canadian balsam, blue spruce, exotic firs all shipped, shrink-wrapped and not at a modest cost. Not to be outdone our rural neighbors covered steep hillsides with beautifully manicured samples and the scratchy, scrawny cedars of yesteryear were left unmolested.

The plastics industry perfected trees that looked far more realistic and symmetrical than the best of the natural trees with the added advantage that they were pre-lit with tiny bulbs ridding the purchaser of the irritating task of stringing lights to the satisfaction of the assembled family.  Into the garage or attic they could go on Jan 1 and wait patiently in the dark until the far distant December.

Today there are far fewer lots selling “live” trees but still through the first weeks of January we see discarded trees with an occasional stray ornament still attached lying in the gutter like a beached porpoise awaiting the biweekly trash collection.

Who knows what the next incarnation will be but I suspect it will be a holographic rendition hovering in the family room corner with multi-colored lights swirling through the imaginary branches and . . . God help us . . . stereophonic singing from a red-nosed reindeer.

Maybe the memories of the small children will be as indelible as my little history but I can guarantee there will be no hiding in cow pasture ditches with a behorned bull pawing the earth, snorting steam and not a sign Christmas spirit in his eye.

One would hope that the happy memories generated by a life-long observation of Christmas trees will continue to remind us what the holiday season is really about—the joy of sharing love with family and friends.

Happy New Year!

Hayden Hollingsworth