Christmas Traditions and The Charlie Brown Tree

Christmas is a big thing in my family.  My maternal grandmother was in an orphanage for several years of her young life, following the death of her mother, so when she married and had her own kids, the holidays were extra special for her.  That carried down to my mother, and I guess my father caught the Mistletoe Bug from her.

When my folks got married, they bought a house, so they didn’t have a lot of money that first Christmas.  My grandfather finagled a $2 Christmas tree from the tree lot in town for them, later termed “The Charlie Brown Tree”, and they used scraps of wood, cardboard, and wire from whoever had some to get rid of, and fabric, buttons, thread, and yarn from mum’s sewing and crocheting to create ornaments for their tree, and stockings to hang by the mantle.  47 years later, those first decorations continue to proudly grace their Christmas tree and home.

Mum and Dad and the Charlie Brown Tree 1965

You have to understand… when most people say they decorate for the holidays, they mean putting a wreath on the door, a tree in the living room, and some lights on the shrubs and eaves of the house.  Maybe some poinsettias and a creche have their places.  That’s not how it worked in our house.  My folks packed away everything in the house.  Every knick-knack and vase of flowers was hidden away and every inch of available table or shelf space was covered in Christmas.  It took from 2 to 3 weeks, yards of cotton batting and felt, bags of cotton filling, and piles of styrofoam to complete.  Dad built storage cabinets in the utility room just to store everything.  Over the years, it has also come to occupy half of the 12 x 8 foot, climate-controlled storage house Dad had to build in the backyard- because they needed more room for all the Christmas stuff.  Every year was slightly different to include new items, new ideas or technology for better displays, and just for fun.  I can’t describe it adequately.  You’ll have to watch the video montages from our 2009 Holiday Season at the end of this post to really understand what I’m talking about.  Yes, montageS.  It took 2 to get everything in!

Mum and Dad are older, now, and it’s too much for them to do all of the displays.  This makes them a bit sad.  I helped put a lot of it up when I lived in Florida, but now I’m in California, and while Shooshie lives with them, “she did not inherit my talent for merchandising”, as she says, so things have been a lot simpler these past couple of years.  The collections of houses and figures and tree ornaments wait for me to have a place for them in my home someday; Shooshie will get her share, too.

It was because of not having that one of the most important traditions in our family was born.  A tradition of ornament making.  A tradition of memories and mementos and spending time together creating our own special days.  Forgoing Christmas was just not an option to Mum and Dad.  It was important to them.  And it has continued to be so for me and Shooshie.  I make a new ornament or two every year for my house, and I have made them to gift to friends.  Shooshie has made a few, and she assures me that she will continue when she has her own place and her own kids.  I plan to make sure of that!

Most of the fabric and styrofoam decorations you will see in the videos were designed and made by Mum and Dad from their own imaginations and patterns traced from my childhood colouring books.  The red sleigh full of elves in the 2nd video was made in 1965 by Dad from cardboard and wire coat hangers.   When I was 11 or 12, I got into painting plaster-craft, and did a bunch of the houses and associated figures, as well as tree ornaments. The creche in video #1 was a gift from my mother to her parents in 1956.  It is cartapesta (papier mache’) from Italy.  This past couple of weeks, I made some of Mum and Dad’s original design style styrofoam ornaments to sell in my Etsy shop.

I spent hours researching the studio set layout for the town of Bedford Falls, shown at the start of the 2nd video, before recreating it on the (extended) dining room table.  It took me a week to assemble and wire for lights.

I had been to New England earlier in 2009 and fell in love with Kennebunkport.  You’ll see my own version of Christmas in Maine in video 2.


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