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“O Tannenbaum”

November 1, 2005

Last year, as every year, I hoisted from its stand the Christmas tree that had graced our home for several weeks. As always, I wrestled it out of the front door, leaving an impressive accumulation of Fraser fir needles in its wake.  Returning to the living room, I found Clare already vacuuming the pesky remains from the carpet.  I raised, yet again, the obvious question first uttered by my Uncle Asbury, long ago and in the same house, “Who ever thought that cutting a tree, bringing it inside the house, and letting it dry out for a few weeks was a good idea?”

Legend has it that Martin Luther, one cold starlit night just before Christmas, brought a fir tree into his home decorating it with candles to bring the light of Christmas inside. Unfortunately, a home with a freshly cut tree inside may bring in more than just the light of Christmas.  Our friends in the pest control business have numerous stories about unwanted critters that entered homes nestled in a Christmas tree.  A praying mantis egg case lodged deep within the branches may enter a home undetected. Warmed to room temperature, the eggs hatch, releasing hundreds of green insects.  Similar experiences with ladybug beetles are not uncommon. While both the praying mantis and the ladybug beetle are useful insects in the great outdoors, indoors they are regarded as pests.

When I was a boy, we cut our Christmas tree from a family farm in southern Spartanburg County.  On a Saturday afternoon several weeks before Christmas, my dad and granddad, along with uncles and cousins, scoured the woods for holly branches laden with red berries.  We found mistletoe loaded with white berries high up in oak trees.  We cut holly branches with pruning shears and shot mistletoe out of treetops with a rifle.  With a bow saw, we cut a red cedar Christmas tree for each family home.  The greenery was loaded on a three-ton lumber truck.

On one occasion, my dad, my brothers, and I brought our fragrant red cedar into our living room.  The family decorated the tree that night, enjoying popcorn and hot chocolate. Several days later, my mother telephoned my dad at the lumberyard. She was in a panic.  The red cedar tree was crawling with red spiders. It was highly unusual for my mother to call the lumberyard and even more out of the ordinary for my dad to leave his place of business.  My dad rushed home to haul the Christmas tree, decorations and all, into the front yard. He sprayed it with foul-smelling pesticide. Later, we brought the cedar back into the house.  That Christmas, the cedar fragrance never returned even after we hung cedar-scented car deodorizers like Christmas ornaments on the branches.

In recent years, Clare and I have purchased a Fraser fir for Christmas.  Last year, I noticed that our North Carolina grown Fraser fir had a certificate attached to the top indicating that the tree had been treated with pesticides.  That comforting assurance was short-lived. Soon creepy black bugs appeared all over the carpet and the drapes near the tree. Our certified fir was infested with Black Pine Aphids. Our pest control friends rushed to the rescue.  The tree and our living room had to be sprayed thoroughly.

When our son, Erik, was a little boy, he liked to sleep under the Christmas tree.  We made a pallet out of an old quilt spread beneath the tree and pretended to be camping in the woods. When Erik died in November five years ago, Clare suggested that we put a Christmas tree on his grave.  We found comfort in the memory of our son sleeping under a Fraser fir. 

We enjoy the beauty and the fragrance of a fresh Christmas tree in our living room, even though we may endure an occasional invasion of insects and the inevitable removal of dried needles.  Perhaps the most beautiful Christmas tree of all is the one we place at Greenlawn on Erik’s grave. When I visit his grave and see Erik’s tree, the last line of a beloved Christmas carol, like a lullaby, comes to mind. “Sleep in heavenly peace.  Sleep in heavenly peace.”

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, November 2005

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