Making Christmas official

The day after Thanksgiving, Christmas tree lots bloomed around the neighborhoods like dandelions after a spring rain. Where there were only vacant parking lots a few days before, now stood row after row of Douglas firs and other evergreens ready to lend holiday cheer.

Recently, the papers and the TV news carried stories about the lines of people who had gathered at the United States Department of Forestry offices in order to sign up for permits to cut their own Christmas trees on state land.

I can imagine what a family adventure that could be: the struggle out in the possibly snowy forest to find just the right tree, and then the work of cutting it down and hauling it back to the car. An outing like that would be completed only after you had gathered around a crackling fireplace and warmed as you slowly sipped steaming-hot chocolate.

Yeah, in my dreams.

Remember, I grew up in the land of excess-southern California-home of the flocked white, blue and pink Christmas trees. The excursion to obtain the yearly Christmas tree usually took place in about 70-degree weather, and if it weren't for the Christmas programs on the TV, you'd have no idea what time of the year it was.

"I noticed," I mentioned one night at dinner, "that they're stringing lights for the Christmas tree lot, next to the U-Rental yard, down on the boulevard."

"Can we go after dinner," my little brother begged, "and get a tree? This year, can we get a white snowy one? Please?"

"They haven't got any trees yet," I informed him, "they're just stringin' the lights."

"I can't believe it's Christmas time already," my father intoned between mouthfuls of my mother's Swiss steak. "Are you sure they're not just puttin' in another used car lot?"

"No, it's a Christmas tree lot-they've even got a sign."

My brother and I kept an eye on the lot, and the first week of December a big flatbed semi-truck piled high with Christmas trees pulled up and began to unload. We knew that Christmas time was finally beginning to close in.

"I guess it's time to go pick out the tree," my father said that Saturday morning. "Might as well get the thing home and in a bucket of water. They'll only dry out further sitting on the lot." My father was always concerned with dryness and dropping needles.

My little brother was out of the house and waiting in the car before my father had even put down his coffee cup.

We browsed our way through the tree lot next to the U-Rental yard, but my father, always in search of the best deal, loaded us back into the car and we moved on to the other lots down the street. After morning had disappeared and we had looked at what seemed like hundreds of trees, we found ourselves back at our first stop.

"What do you think of this one?" asked my father as we stopped in front of the tree he'd pulled out of the row.

"I don't know, Bob," my mother replied. "The one side looks a little sparse-look at this one over here." My brother was left to guard the tree my father had found while we went over to look at my mother's tree.

"See how this one doesn't have any holes in it," my mother said. "It'll look good from both inside the room and outside the window."

My father and I looked carefully at her tree, and then we walked back to where Ron stood with the other tree and examined it again. My father bounced its trunk on the pavement and looked for dropped needles.

We finally settled on a tree, and after we had stretched a sheet around it to protect the car's trunk from loose needles, we tied the trunk lid down and set off for home.

The first inch of the tree's trunk was then sawed off to enable it to absorb water better. Then the tree was propped up sitting in a bucket of water and leaning against the back of the garage. There it sat until a week before Christmas, when a space of honor was cleared for it in the living room and it was brought indoors.

Two large boxes marked xmas decorations were carried in from the garage. Then they were opened to reveal even smaller boxes that held tree ornaments that my mother remembered from her childhood. There were strings of lights and packages of silvery "icicles" that my brother and I were always admonished to "put on one at a time and don't just throw handfuls at the tree."

After about an hour the tree was finally decorated and the whole house was filled with a scent that left little mystery about which season it was.

That night, when the tree's lights were turned on for the first time, it was officially Christmas.

Gary McDaniel is a Magnolia resident.[[In-content Ad]]