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December 9, 2018

For nearly fifty-three years Clare and I have enjoyed having a freshly cut, fragrant evergreen to grace our home during the season of Advent. Over the years we have had Scotch pine trees, Canadian spruce trees, and red cedar trees for our Christmas tree.  We have tried living trees with the root ball intact placed in a large galvanized tub. Only one of those lived when we planted it in our yard. That was a Colorado blue spruce grown in the mountains of North Carolina.  By far, our favorite kind of tree is the Fraser fir grown above three thousand feet in the North Carolina highlands.

Many families in the Upstate participate in the tradition of decorating for the holiday season with a Christmas tree. Right before the first Sunday of Advent, we begin our decorating for Christmas. A wreath with a red ribbon on the front door and a Moravian Star on the front porch are usually our first decorations. Those are followed closely by several nativity sets on available surfaces in various rooms of the house. The Christmas tree is up and decorated a little later.

Last year, a fresh Christmas tree was hefted into our home by a strong young teenager. Once the Fraser Fir was in place I followed a long-standing tradition. Years ago I developed the habit of tying the tree to a hook in the ceiling using a length of parachute cord. That extra precaution was deemed necessary after one of our sons tried to climb the limbs. That is just one of many Christmas tree perils.

Once our tree was properly aligned, watered, and anchored to the ceiling, it was time to adorn the fir.  Clare found Christmas music on the radio. The tree was beautifully decorated by more teenagers. First, 1000 white lights were tucked into the thick green branches. Next, ornaments accumulated over more than fifty years of marriage were suspended from every available spot. Then, crocheted and tatted snowflakes along with crystal icicles and stars were added. Finally, a small Moravian star supported by a crystal angel was affixed to the tip top.

When the entire project was completed, one teenager asked, “Where did the idea of bringing a tree into the house begin?” Great question!  Dead needle accumulation, clogged vacuum cleaner bags, and the hazard of fire are other Christmas tree perils.

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 of the front door, leaving an impressive accumulation of Fraser fir needles in its wake.  Returning to the living room, I found one of my teenage helpers 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 one cold starlit night just before Christmas; Martin Luther 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 entered a 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, we cut our Christmas tree from a family farm in southern Spartanburg County.  On a Saturday afternoon several weeks before Christmas, we 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.  We loaded the greenery on a lumber truck and made our way back to Spartanburg.

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, in a panic, telephoned my dad at the lumberyard.  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. After spraying it with foul-smelling pesticide, he later 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.  Several years ago, I noticed that our Fraser fir grown in North Carolina had a certificate attached to the top, indicating that the tree 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 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 children were young, they made a pallet out of an old quilt spread beneath the tree and pretended to be camping in the woods. Our son, Erik, liked to sleep under the Christmas tree. When he died in November 2000, 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.

Every Christmas since I have placed a tree on Erik’s plot at Greenlawn. It was decorated with one gleaming brass star on top. This year we have made a change. Realizing that we are at a different time in our lives, we have decided not to put a tree on Erik’s grave this year. Instead, we are designating a place in our gazebo as a suitable spot for Erik’s tree.

Once again this year we will enjoy a fresh Christmas tree in our living room; fresh at least until the needles start falling off. Perhaps the most beautiful Christmas tree of all is the one we call Erik’s tree. We remember how much he delighted in taking a nap under the branches. The last line of a beloved Christmas carol, like a lullaby, comes to mind as a prayer for Erik. “Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”

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