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Posts Tagged ‘California Christmas’

A CHRISTMAS TREE AND THE FOREST

For my mother and father, the tree had to fit these specifications: a six to seven foot Douglas Fir, fresh if possible, big blue-green needles, full branching.  And oh, yes. It must exude that wonderful resiny smell of the forest on a summer day, the trade mark so to speak of the doug fir.

The excitement of my family buying a tree around December 10 in one of the numerous lots that sprang up after Thanksgiving was usually the opening chapter of the holiday season.

First Christmas Tree 1930 © SR Euston

But for me as a boy, this was really not the essence of the thing. The tree selected (after much discussion and sometimes disagreement) was a kind of shadowy symbol of the great mysterious forest that I imagined covering the slopes of a semi-mythical Sierra Nevada—mist covered or snowy, cloud hidden or stormy, winds roaring. After my great imaginary storms passed over the peaks, a luminous sky broke into pure cobalt blue. Only the silence of the snow covering forests of pine and fir or Sequoia remained. Hidden in our small ornament-clad Christmas tree were such evanescent forest dreams.

The Tree Trimmer circa 1932 © SR Euston

Understand, this was Los Angeles. The Santa Ana winds could howl dry and dusty or even smoky over the San Gabriel Mountains even into December. The winter rains may have hardly begun. The Christmas tree lots may have had only a few green things, weeds, growing on the very ground where the quasi-green trees from Oregon rested in clumps, harvested in October for the LA market. Some years, the trees were dry enough that, by merely picking one out, the needles dropped like tinder ready to burn.

This fascination with the forest was hardly the Christmas of the Bible or the First Methodist Church my family attended. In a sense, I suppose, Christmas for me was a Christmas without Christ. I might have been called a boy pagan. I thought the tree in the church sanctuary as almost sacrilegious—not from the Christian standpoint, but from the tree’s.

Grandmother's Tree © SR Euston

I have some idea where such imaginings came from. My father and his natal family, mostly German in descent, treated the tree as a central part of Christmas. I can sense that looking at an old picture I have of my Grandmother, in old age but still winsome, standing beside her trimmed tree set on a round maple table, looking calm and happy.

And from a sepia photo of my parents’ first Christmas tree, in 1930.  I can almost smell the resinous tang and guess at the tree’s significance at the beginning of a marriage.

And from every tree I helped my father trim, and from every tree I later have trimmed myself, a tradition has carried on to an uncertain future.

Today, after all, we helped fabricate a fake tree made in China, for incongruous decoration in a nearby historic Victorian house. (Strangely, almost eerily, a few of the branchlets of the fake tree fell off, just like a real tree.)

I suppose in retrospect it’s not too far of a jump from the Christmas tree to the forest of dreams.

I doubt if plastic trees make for dreams.   SRE

The Forest, South Fork, Eel River, CA © SR Euston

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