Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah Atwell does only cactus)
I had to go out and buy new Christmas tree lights this week. That shouldn't be a big deal, but it really brought home to me how much lights have changed since I first became aware of them.
I have pictures of every tree my family had, starting in 1950 (left). I won't bore you with them all (unless you really, really want me to), but they are surprisingly consistent. We always had real trees, and we always decorated them the same way. We resisted (and continue to) artificial trees, including those trees pre-wired with all the lights. We resisted "theme" trees in single colors, especially pink. I'll admit we did for a time use tinsel (that strand-by-strand kind), but eventually abandoned it.
Our tree-decorating was a tradition, and each year we would gather as a family, pulling each ornament out of the boxes (some of which are as old as I am), commenting on when and where we got them. My mother would sit back and supervise, dictating where each one should go, and how to balance the color distribution for the lights. It's a tradition I've tried to uphold ever since I officially left home, starting with the tree I had in my first apartment in Cambridge (right in the nice bay window in the front, facing Harvard Street), and the memorable tree in a later apartment for which my roommates and I enlisted the help of friends and neighbors at a party–which may explain why there were plastic molars (yes, teeth, from the orthodontist who lived upstairs) and carefully strung potato chips on that one.
But I was going to talk about lights. My parents had twinkle lights long before they were common–the string even had its own transformer, and the bulbs were hard to find, but at least they lasted. Then they invented lights that twinkled without help, although they give out pretty quickly. More than a decade ago I found a string of "programmable" lights that did all sorts of things. This year I plugged them in and they refused to do half of their tricks, and I didn't like the ones that were left. I've found an all-white one that is close but not quite the same. A couple of years ago I found a fabulous short string of lights that actually changed colors! I love those, but I can't find any more of them, and I've already broken one of the fragile bulbs. So I was left with one string of standard bulbs that I bought in 1972, which looks just like the string of standard bulbs my parents bought in 1950.
Obviously it was time to go shopping. I was surprised to find that there were pretty much only two choices: those (@#$%&*) little white/colored things (I have plenty of those, and I don't like them) and the more recent LED lights. I don't want to think of myself as a Luddite, so I bought a few strings, round and pointy (does that pointy form have a name? Does it think it's a pine cone? A flame?). And I'm going to grit my teeth and give them a try this year.
I could go on and on about the ornaments. I was even going to give you a forensic analysis, zooming in on the pictures of the trees from the 1950s and demonstrating that, yes, I'm still using some of the same ornaments; a few have survived and are now semi-antiques–as am I, I guess. Of course new ones have been added over the years, so many that there's no longer room for all of them on one tree. My sister and I usually give each other at least one new ornament each year, which keeps increasing the collection. And this year we have two kittens who have no idea what a treat they're in for (we introduced Dexter to snow today, and he's quite confused), so I'm guessing we'll be using the indestructible wooden and plastic ones this year, rather than the heirloom ornaments.
But I'm hoping I can get my (small) family to join in the decorating, and to remember the happy times of Christmases past. There's something magic about a twinkling, glowing tree covered with memories, isn't there?
What's your favorite ornament?