Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Tree Stories

This photo of me, standing in front of our family's Christmas tree, was taken in Havana, on December 22, 1960, on my brother, Al's, 2nd birthday (I was 3).  I don't know what kind of pine this is, it certainly looks like it had very, very long needles, much longer than those of the white pine that we bought this year.  I can just imagine how hard it must have been for my mother to hang ornaments from it.

The photo is a true treasure because, displayed on the tree, are my mother's beloved glass ornaments, given to her by my father on the first Christmas they were married.  She took care of those ornaments like they were her babies, and cried pitifully when my brother broke one of them.

Growing up, my mother did almost all the Christmas decorating.  My father was a firm believer in hiring help.  Leaky faucet?  Hire a plumber.  Crying baby?  Hire a nanny.  Christmas tree decorating?  Well . . . he grew up surrounded by a bevy of sisters . . . whoever did the decorating at home, it wasn't him . . . My father was a loving man and had many wonderful qualities, but we learned early on that he would never be a do-it-yourselfer.  Never was there a man more ill-equipped for the changing political climate . . .

As the communist regime became more established in Cuba, Christmas trees ceased being available for purchase around the holidays, but my ever-resourceful godmother, Mama Lala, found a guy, who knew a guy, who had a farm . . . a lot of Mama Lala stories start off like that . . . anyway, she bought us a "Christmas tree" - some sort of bush, without leaves, but with firm branches, was cut down, shaped like a traditional tree, afixed to a wood base and spray-painted white.  That was the Christmas tree that my mother put up for us every year until we came to the United States.  I remember hovering nearby while the tree was decorated, and later, when I was older, helping my mother hang ornaments from its branches.  I wish I had a picture of the white tree but, unfortunately, those pictures never made it across the Gulf of Mexico.

On the year in which my brother broke one of my mother's Christmas ornaments, after she finished mourning for the loss, she took the glass chards of the broken ornament and crushed them and made her own glitter, and then scattered the glitter on the white cotton that covered the base of the tree.  I was enchanted by the way the lights hit the little bits of glass.  I think, it was at that very moment, when my love affair with glass ornaments began.

We came to the United States in 1969.  My mother's ornaments, along with so many other things, were left behind in Cuba, never to be recovered.  It saddens me to have lost such a meaningful, albeit small part of my mother's heritage. 

In the U.S. my family switched back and forth between real and artificial trees; each has its good points.  But once I got married, I stuck to the real thing - it helped that my husband also preferred fresh trees.  In 28 years of marriage, we've always had a fresh tree in the house at Christmas. 

We used to go to a tree farm and cut down our own tree.  It was an attempt to give our citified children a dose of nature and to show them where Christmas trees came from.  We cut down trees in all weathers, we got stuck in mud a couple of times.  We trampled through farms on the coldest day of December (it was always the coldest day in December), until one year, when my son John said to me:  “Mommy, you and Daddy can go cut the tree, I'll wait in the car.”  Since then, we've gone back to buying our trees from local vendors.

In the last couple of years, though, smaller artificial trees have made their way into the house as well, to be displayed in other rooms.  Those are O.K., I enjoy them, too . . . but I somehow seem to make my way to where the fresh tree is - this year, the Living Room/Library.

Here's this year's tree . . .

It used to take me days to decorate the Christmas tree.  The ornaments had to be spaced just so, and the colors next to each other had to harmonize.  It was me at my OCD worst.  But I'd like to think I'm evolving.  In the last few years, I've been enjoying a more chaotic tree, just laden with lots of ornaments - mostly glass.  While I won't turn up my nose at any ornament, if you want to put a smile on my face, show me a glass ornament.

A little glitter bird that was too heavy to hang on the tree is sitting on the window sill . . . He just seems to belong right there . . .

A Fabergé egg (if only, ha!) . . .

This ornament puts me in mind of The Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker Suite . . . or perhaps an Italian princess from the Renaissance . . .

As for lights, I like white lights.  But when the boys were young, they insisted on colored lights, and we always let them have their way.  Now my oldest son, John, seems to prefer white lights, too, and easy-going David . . . well, David just goes along with whatever . . .

I wouldn't want to commit to any aspect of decorating the Christmas tree.  One of its magical qualities is its ability to change itself year after year, allowing us to fulfill so many little fantasies.  

I wish all my friends in blogland a very Merry Christmas!  God bless you all!


Nicki said...

I look forward to hearing more about the 'big house' as well as your journey to America. So sad that little accents of your heritage had to be left behind.

I used to do white lights on the tree with ornaments and garland that matched my living room furniture. and*then*there*
came*children. colored lights, garden variety ornaments including Baby's First, etc. I have a grapevine wreath tree in the front living room with red cherry lights and white lights, as well as mini artificial trees here and there decorated differently each year depending on my mood. I am such a fickle decorator.

Your tree is beautiful and there is nothing like the smell of a real tree.

Alycia Nichols said...

I am Wow! First, you by that tree is just too cute! You and I are roughly the same age, and I remember those little dresses. That little hat on your head is just darling!!! Kind of reminds me of the "Cigars, Cigarettes, Tiparillos" girls back in the 60s. They wore hats kind of like that. I, too have switched back and forth between real and artificial trees. My husband has finally won the battle, and it's artificial all around. While I understand his reasoning, I still miss the fragrance of a real tree. Your tree for this year is beautiful. I'm so sorry your Mom had to leave so many things behind. I know that had to hurt. When all was said and done, though, I know she would have gladly left it all behind if it meant having her family safe and all together here. The fact that you have such fond memories of Christmas is testimony to your upbringing. And your resourceful in making glitter out of the broken ornament!!! I like her style! Merry Christmas to you, and Happy New Year. I wish you all the very best this year to go along with your memories.

Michele said...

Oh Maria, I so enjoyed your blog post about Christmas!

I loved your plaid tablescape- wow!

I loved all your pretty desserts - and oh my word how did the cupcakes find themselves tipped? In my house they wouldn't last long enough to tip and I am certain if they were to someone would slurp them up right off the table - haha - not kidding, I know my nieces would!

I especially enjoyed reading about your mother's ornaments (only real thing material my mother's adored, they were antiques - HER mother's from England and out kitten broke most of them and she cried. Her momma died when my mom was only ten and she didn't have much from her because of two older sisters.)

I was amazed reading about Cuba's holiday history too..and laughed out loud about your father.

Anyway, thank you so much for visiting so I could find you and your wonderful blog!!

Michele said...

PS sorry so long

My MIL wouldn't DREAM of taking her Christmas things down until Epiphany - in fact was just writing about that in a few blogs yesterday.

She also has her Wise Men slowly moving through her house because they haven't reached The Babe yet!

Nice to see someone else waits till Epiphany too - but not us, I take advantage of hubs being home from work on vacation, he is a life saver help when it comes to the heavy lifting!!