O Christmas Tree
Each year our family enjoys a fresh Christmas tree in our living room. Last Friday, a strong young man, a friend of the family, helped heft a Fraser fir into our home.
Years ago I developed the habit of tying our tree to a ceiling hook, using a strong length of parachute cord. That extra precaution became necessary after one of our sons tried to climb the limbs.
In December 2012, 240 house fires that started from Christmas trees were reported in the United States. For that reason, I include here a list of additional precautions issued by the National Fire Protection Agency.
- If using an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant.
- If using a cut tree, choose one with fresh, green needles that remain attached when touched.
- Cut one or two inches from the base of the trunk before placing the tree in its stand.
- Place the tree at least three feet away from any heat source, such as fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents, or lights.
- Position the tree in a location that does not block an exit.
- Add water to the tree stand daily.
- Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory.
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for electric lights.
- Never use lit candles to decorate a tree.
- Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Once our Christmas tree was properly aligned, watered, and anchored to the ceiling last Friday, it was time to adorn the fir. With Christmas music playing on the radio, three more teenagers beautifully decorated the tree. First, they tucked 1000 white lights into the thick green branches. Next, ornaments that had accumulated over forty-seven years of marriage were suspended from every available space among the branches. Then, the three teenagers added crocheted and tatted snowflakes along with crystal icicles and stars. The final addition to the very tip-top was a small Moravian star.
Last year, several days after Christmas, I hoisted from its stand the Christmas tree that had graced our home for several weeks. As always, I wrestled it out 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 annoying 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 one cold starlit night just before Christmas, Martin Luther brought a fir tree into his home, decorating it with candles to bring inside the light of Christmas. He obviously had not seen the warning about lighted candles on flammable boughs.
Unfortunately, a home decorated with a freshly cut tree may bring in more than just the light of Christmas.
Our friends in the pest control business have numerous stories about unwanted critters entering homes secretly nestled in the Christmas tree. A praying mantis egg case, lodged deep within the branches, entered one home undetected. Warmed to room temperature, the eggs hatched, 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, my dad, brothers, and I rode a lumber truck down to a family farm in southern Spartanburg County several weeks before Christmas. We scoured the woods for holly branches laden with red berries and mistletoe loaded with white berries. We cut the holly with pruning shears, shot the mistletoe out of the tops of oak trees with a rifle, and cut a red cedar Christmas tree with a bow saw. After loading the greenery, we made our way back to Spartanburg.
On one occasion, we brought a fragrant red cedar into our living room. The entire family decorated the tree that night, enjoying popcorn and hot chocolate. Several days later my mother, in a panic, telephoned my dad at work with news that the cedar 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 business. Dad rushed home to haul the Christmas tree – decorations and all – into the front yard and to spray it with foul-smelling pesticide. He later brought the cedar back into the house, but the original 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. Several years ago, I noticed that our North Carolina-grown fir had a certificate attached to the top, indicating that it had been treated with pesticides. That comforting assurance was short-lived. Within several days, creepy black bugs appeared all over the carpet and the drapes near the tree. Our certified Fraser was infested with black pine aphids. Our pest control friends rushed to the rescue, thoroughly spraying both the tree and our living room.
When our children were young, they often spread an old quilt beneath the Christmas tree and pretended to be camping in the woods. Our son Erik liked to sleep under the branches. When he died in November 2000, Clare suggested that we place a small tree on his grave. Every year since then we have taken a tree to Erik’s plot at Greenlawn. We have found comfort in the memory of our son sleeping under a Fraser fir.
On the same Friday afternoon we brought a Christmas tree into our home, one of our friends helped me place another on our son’s grave. Perhaps that tree is the most beautiful of all. 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 © December 2013