For many years, I’ve had trouble feeling the Christmas spirit. I felt particularly distant from the season this year, so I have been putting a lot of thought into what made me feel the excitement of the holidays in the past, and what I could do to get that feeling back again.
In trying to sort through this, I decided that I needed to figure out what part of the celebration really made me feel excited for the holiday. Obviously, when I was young, my excitement about what gifts could possibly show up on Christmas morning had a lot to do with the anticipation. When my children were young, my favorite part of the holiday was filling their stockings. There were many Christmases when I spent far more on those stockings than I did on the “big” gifts they received. I loved the creativity of finding gifts that would fit in a stocking and still be something that would make my daughter’s eyes light up with joy.
The other thing I loved about the holiday was decorating the house. When my kids were little, we lived in one of those neighborhoods where every house on the block was decorated with lights and large wooden boards decorated like Christmas cards. Ours had an angel blowing a trumpet and I was always proud of the effect. After the girls grew up, I would still have a tree, with a lone, single stocking hanging from the mantel. There were years when my dining room chandelier was festooned with sparkling, glitter encrusted snowflakes. The decorations would make me smile every morning as I left my bedroom and entered the living area of wherever I lived.
These thoughts had me traveling down memory lane and that lane took me rocketing back to when I was young and my father was in charge of the outdoor decorations.
Daddy was a frustrated creative. He was born in an era when it was more difficult for a man to identify with his creativity. He was also raised in a family that was so dysfunctional that the best thing for my father as a young boy was being put in military school at age six. As safe a place as that school felt for him, I cannot imagine a military school in the 30’s and 40’s having much tolerance for an artistic young man. As a result, my father’s creativity snuck out in ways that sometimes struck his children as odd.
One year, inspired by God only knows what, Daddy decided to make a huge, 15-foot Christmas tree for our front yard. His vision had colored lights twinkling over the metallic surface of hundreds of tin can lids. He followed his vision to fruition, but I’m not sure if the reality matched the grandeur of his original vision.
I don’t remember when he started saving the tin can lids, but it had to take months, if not years to accumulate enough lids to bring this vision to life. When he finally decided he had enough lids, the lids were sorted by size. Naturally, the small lids were at the top of the infamous “tree” and the large lids would be at the bottom. Once sorted, each lid was tediously, and sometimes painfully, punched with 2 holes, one each at the “top,” and “bottom.”
The next step in the process was to string all of these metal lids onto multiple metal wires. Daddy then took an old bamboo pole, (for some reason, we always had bamboo poles around the house when I was growing up,) and attached the strings of metal lids to one end of the pole. The pole was then inserted in the ground and each string was tacked down into the ground forming a tree shape with the strings of lids.
Please note that metal can lids and metal wire can both be sharp. I don’t remember helping to put the tree together, but my brother does and incurring a large number of scrapes and cuts from handling the dangerous strings of lids is a memory that he holds firm in his head, but not with any affection. I am pretty sure that the authorities would be called today if such a tree were to be put up because of the risk of injury to both the parties that labored putting it up and to random stray animals who could brush up against the knife-like edges of the lids.
Once the tree was up and the strings of lids were arranged to my father’s satisfaction, multiple lights were set up to illuminate the “tree.” The lights had rotating screens of color, so the “tree” would reflect different colors throughout the night. Needless to say, this holiday spectacle attracted a lot of attention in the neighborhood. I thought it was a beautiful decoration and was fascinated watching it as the colors changed and the tin can lids sparkled. I suspect my father and I were the only two who had this appreciation.
My brother and sister, who were teenagers at the time, remember the tree as an object of embarrassment for them. I don’t remember them complaining out loud at the time, but they tell stories of their horror when friends would question the purpose of this decoration. In fact, as adults, there was rarely a Christmas gathering when the three of us wouldn’t regale our children with stories of the infamous tin can tree. I’m not sure if our daughters were amused, horrified, or bored by the story; probably a mix of all three.
I don’t think we ever discussed our memories of this “tree” with our father. None of us had the type of relationship with him as adults that would have allowed this discussion, but I sure wish we had. I would have loved to hear how he remembered the fruit of his creative labor. I don’t know if he would’ve laughed about it with us or not. I hope he loved it as much as I did, but I’ll never know for sure.
One thing I do know for sure, is that no matter what else I may do to try to recapture my spirit of Christmas, I will never, ever, replicate my father’s tin can tree. Some things are better left to live in infamy in the memories of those who were there. Daddy’s “tree” is at the top of that list.