Like other families’ homes in the early fifties, ours was a brightly colored mix of multi-colored lights, some store bought decorations and some handcrafted ornaments from school that adorned the walls and surfaces to make our home festive!
Mom hated fussing with the light strings, so my job as I grew older was to string the lights on the table top tree. I soon discovered that putting lights on any size tree was the pits! The stringed wires were normally thick, and red, green or black in color; no matter where you started or how much you tried to twist the string in between the branches, the darn wires showed anyway!
Seven watt glass bulbs could really get hot over a period of time. These were the days when you lit your tree through the Christmas season up to and past New Year’s; if the tree was still fresh, we could enjoy it until January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Normally, we’d slowly stop lighting it for fear that the needles after three weeks were becoming too dry and could easily burn from the bulbs. By this time, Allstate was advertising that we were in good hands, but Mom didn’t want to take any chances.
Both the tree lights and the ornaments were glass and somewhat fragile. The bulbs were brightly colored and if carefully handled, didn’t have too many little chipped spots where the paint had flaked off from years’ use. Our ornaments were a collection of whatever hadn’t broken over the years; some were striped, others were hollowed on one side with a sunburst of color, some were teardrop shape, and some were flocked with “snow” accents.
Tinsel; now THAT was another fun job. The kids across the street could toss it on the tree when their mother wasn’t looking. No such luck in our home. We hung the tinsel “correctly” (per Mom’s direction), making sure that each piece spread evenly over the branches and hung down between the needles “like icicles”. The tinsel was heavier in the earlier days; the metal helped weigh it down. But it easily showed its age, especially if you didn’t gently fold it back into its box; the darn stuff could crumple and look really rugged, but would still stay together; I still have an old box of the metal type. I don’t think the stuff would ever disintegrate even if buried! I relied on the tinsel camouflaging the unsightly strings enough that no eye would be focused on anything but the colorful lights and ornaments. Our gifts were placed in and around the table legs, each package showing off its bow because we could stand several of them on end for the best effect.
Daddy was always happy to come home and see the tree decorated. He’d catch sight of it as he drove up the drive. I never remember him walking in the first night’s lighting of our tree and not commenting on how pretty it looked.
If Mom were especially busy, she let us girls decorate the rest of the room. Our stockings were hung by the chimney with care but remained empty always; they were strictly for décor. Next, we worked on the mantel area. The little cardboard village pieces and the simply made, wooden stable with its little figurines glued in place were dutifully set up. A few wire “bottle-brush” green trees on their small wooden disks stood here and there along the length of the little landscape. The surface was covered with “snow”, made from panels of cotton batting. If we had an extra string of lights, we could weave it underneath the snow, making sure the stable was properly lit with a yellow bulb that protruded through the stable’s back wall.
On especially cold mornings, Mom or Daddy would make a small fire in the fireplace to take the chill off the rooms. The house had one floor heater so the fireplace was much used and needed. Mom turned the tree on in the early mornings for us to enjoy; we could sit and eat breakfast in the adjacent dining room, enjoying the festive silver tip.
While the décor never varied much from year to year, we used what we had and found renewed pleasure in the company of our simple, familiar things. Gratitude trumped creativity, especially at the Christmas season.