Holiday spirit: A labor of love or just labor?
There’s something rather Paul Bunyan-esque about going out in the snow and cutting down your own Christmas tree with a handsaw. After regrettably notifying my editor and publisher that I had yet to pick out my tree this year, that’s exactly what I found myself doing on B&B Christmas Tree Farm in Roxana last Friday morning.
“It will help get you in the holiday spirit,” they told me.
Apparently, the Christmas music playing everywhere I go, like a seasonal soundtrack for my life and the looming reminder of gift-shopping, ever-plaguing my thoughts were not enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to sound like Ebenezer here. It’s just that until the past two years, the holidays were, well, a lot simpler. For one, I wasn’t living on my own. The aroma of molasses cookies and fresh-baked cinnamon bread had routinely filled the kitchen as soon as Thanksgiving had passed by, though now, I find I’m the one baking, if for no other reason than just to recollect days of old.
So, there I was, trudging through the snow at B&B farms, saw in hand, on a quest to return home with anything other than a “Charlie Browner.”
Dave Beebe, who has been helping his parents run the farm for more than 20 years, explained proper care of the tree as we marched through the rows, circling the ones that stood more than 5 feet tall. He clarified the difference between the customary Douglas and Frazier firs with the Norwegian spruce that he grows, including the qualities to look for in a healthy tree, from the needles to the trunk.
Picking trees out on the farms back home was never a perplexing dilemma as I had recalled it. It had basically become a game for my sister and I when we were younger, as we asked, “How about this one?” pointing to every fir we walked past until our father finally gave in and tagged one just to quiet us down.
As I scoped out my choices, my eyes fell on a stout, double-top Norwegian spruce with an adequate abundance of branches, some of which still held on to the previous day’s snowfall. Content with my choice, I went to work, grinding at the base of the trunk with the saw.
I almost regretted not outfitting myself that morning in a red flannel shirt, yellow suspenders and a gristly beard, but quickly recalled that our photographer, Jesse Pryor, accompanied me on my trip, and would not have let me live that down. Not to mention, my facial hair still grows at the rate of a young schoolboy’s…
Anyway, I hauled off my “kill,” feeling more like a Neanderthal than I have in quite some time. The handsaw itself might have well been my club; the tree, a gazelle or a similarly elusive prey. Cutting down your own Christmas tree: so easy, a caveman can do it.
As I hoisted the prickly beast into the back of Susan Lyons’ pickup truck (a boss and a friend!), I though back to how Dad had always been the one to do the cutting, carrying and ah, yes, the purchasing of the trees.
Fortunately, Mr. Beebe gave me the tree at a generous price. Maybe he had been touched by the holiday spirit, or perhaps he just saw that I was exhausted and sweating profusely and felt bad. Whatever the case, I thanked him and returned home, pleased with my pick.
Now, as anyone who has set up a Christmas tree will tell you, it’s anything but a cut-and-dry process to do it alone. Fortunately, I had some assistance from a friend — a woman’s eye, because let’s face it… After 20 minutes of twisting and shifting, being impaled by thousands of needles like a human pincushion and wrapping my hands around a sap-laden trunk, I was ready to lock the darn thing in place no matter which way it was leaning, even against the wall, if need be.
The subsequent half-hour was filled with nothing but disapproving protests: “No, move it back to where it was.” “There’s a gap there, turn it around.” “Pull it away from the wall.” I quickly realized that it is during this chaotic bicker-fest that, despite the approaching holiday, Burl Ives singing “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” is more unappealing than it has ever been before… ever!
Fortunately, though, we got it. However, the journey was far from complete. I decided that there wasn’t enough sticky sap in my hair. And what better way to cure that than lying on my stomach, sloshing around a pitcher of water, while battling the stubborn low branches that I should have hacked off in the first place, just to give the thirsty fellow a drink?
For the record, hot soap and water is not the remedy you’re looking for if you have barely escaped a battle with a sticky evergreen tree. No, it’s mayonnaise. You heard right. Don’t ask me how I know or why it works (I would imagine it has something to do with the oils), but mayonnaise will remove tree sap from skin and hair. (I’ve heard rubbing alcohol and nail polish remover work wonders on clothing.) Just make sure you wash your hands, arms and hair with water and soap or shampoo soon afterwards to avoid smelling like a heaping jar of Hellman’s.
Onto the decorations.
Just out of curiosity, what compels Christmas tree lights to stop working during the 11 months they sit dormant in the attic? They’re not burning through any more electricity up there, as far as I know, and if my memory serves me right, they were still working at the end of last holiday. For that matter, how did the ones that do continue to work decide that half of them are going to be blinkers this year? Conspiracy, I tell you.
Thanks to those haphazard little lights, my tree looks like an electrocuted, seizing spruce going through an identity crises. Regardless, it’s my tree, and I like it.
The decorations adorning the branches are not the traditional ones that I’m used to — the cross-stitched mementos that Mom created for my sister’s and my first Christmases, the ornaments we picked out on our family trip to Germany, the popsicle-stick reindeer and the cotton-ball Santas. Those are all back home with my parents, set upon the boughs of their tree.
Instead, I have the joy of hanging the Christmas balls that are older than the first noel, itself; the ones that have tarnished over the years, whose once-golden hues have grown to the shade of Grey Poupon; the ones that your mother would absolutely kill you over if you accidentally dro…
So now the tree is decorated with the majority of the ornaments I started with, resting on the branches. (You should also add a Luden’s cough drop every so often to the tree stand, too. Why, you ask? To keep him from coughing his balls off, of course!)
I’m not one for tinsel or the fake snow, seeing as at the end of the season, a simple flick of the trunk will send the needles to the floor for an afternoon of more cleaning than I could ever wish to do. I’m not too much of a wreath or garland guy, either, knowing that it’ll be one more thing I’ll have to take down in January, or February, or March.
A strand of matching white lights runs around the frame of the walkway into the kitchen, and my once-empty home is starting to feel a little more festive. Simplicity is key when you’re a 23-year-old bachelor.
I’ve contemplated hanging the icicle lights along the porch again this year, but have yet to get to them. Last year, my parents gave me a hand during a holiday visit to the house. (I’m spoiled, I know.)
Procrastination is getting the better of me now. Although maybe the hesitation comes from the recollection of hanging icicle lights along the front porch ceiling back home in Elkton with my father, a task that always happened to fall on the absolute coldest day in December.
“Because your Mom wants them up today, that’s why,” would be my father’s response to any of my 20-something inquiries.
Between the freezing cold and the staple gun staples not holding the wire up, I’d hear words spill from my father’s mouth that would land me a scolding if I were to ever repeat them in front of my mother. He’d grow angrier, mumbling under his breath, and finally get on a roll, moving quicker as we neared the end, before accidentally piercing the very last staple through the wire. Needless to say, he uses J-hooks now.
There’s never been what I’d consider a dull moment in my household around Christmastime, and for the past two years, setting up my house on my own, I’ve got to admit, it still holds true.
Sure, I had my doubts when Darin and Susan approached me about cutting down my own tree with a handsaw rather than a chainsaw, but I suppose they valued the contribution their reporter could make with both hands rather than a severed one.
Maybe it has helped me get more into the Christmas spirit. Each night, the lights from the tree give a comforting glow, reminiscent of the plug-in candles in each of the windows at my parents’ home, each giving off a glimmering shine bright enough to change the typical dusk to a soothing December evening, but too dull to keep you from falling asleep.
As the holiday approaches, I’ll find myself traveling home to visit the family. It’s only a matter of time before a house will feel too empty without the smiling faces, home-cooked meals and freshly baked cookies.
The season reminds us of the importance of friends and family, although, sometimes, all it takes is a tree and a little work to get us in that holiday spirit.