Monday, December 5, 2011

Trimming the tree: The 12 Days of Christmas

The Trimming of the Tree
by Niki Turner

As there are presently an even dozen Inkies, we've decided (thanks Miss Anita!) to dedicate one December day per Inky to a Christmas post about our childhood Christmas memories or traditions.

I took the plunge into the icky, scary crawl space (so named because crawly things live there) to haul out a Rubbermaid container of photos in search of pictorial Christmas memories. I only found a few ... apparently, Christmas pictures weren't a priority at my house. Considering my mother's (and my) aversion to being photographed, that's not very surprising.

I did find Christmas pictures of my uncle, my aunt, my grandparents, and various family friends... (I also rediscovered one of my grandfather's pre-WWII scrapbooks, which is a treasure all on its own, complete with newspaper clippings from the late 1930s and pictures of the ships on which he served in the Navy.)
me, circa 1978-1979

I did stumble across this horribly awkward picture of myself in front of our tree, circa 1978 or 1979. Yes, my dress was too small and my knee socks are pathetically uneven. But look past me to the tree... No, that's not a Charlie Brown tree. It's an authentic Colorado pine of unknown species. All our trees looked like that.

My folks were big fans of trudging, via cross-country skis, into the depths of the Colorado wilderness to locate the "perfect" Christmas tree. I hated those excursions because they always involved being terribly cold. We would traipse from tree to tree, weighing each evergreen's pros and cons with the kind of deliberation a jury gives to sentencing a murder suspect.

No matter how long we debated or how carefully we searched, the "perfect" tree always required cosmetic surgery when we got it home... Cut the bottom off so the tree wasn't bent sideways at the ceiling, trim the bottom branches so it will fit in the stand, turn it so the inevitable flat side faced the corner. Then my dad would start in on the lights.

Before the days of mini-lights and pre-lit trees, putting the lights on the tree was a painstaking process. When you're only putting 25-50 C9 lights on the tree, it's crucial that every light be in the right place or the tree will have dark, empty holes.

Once dad was done, it was time to hang the ornaments, the same ones year after year, without variation. Leaving some in the box was a kind of sacrilege, I perceived. By the time I finished elementary school, the collection of handmade craft ornaments I'd added to the mix turned our tree into a conglomeration of construction paper, shedding glitter, glue and sequins. The topper came last. When I was 3 or 4, my mom and I made an angel from construction paper, and mom let me draw her face. My Christmas angel was okay, except for the unibrow, a la Bert from Sesame Street. Of course, I never realized my Christmas angel had a unibrow until I was a teenager. How she (and the rest of those handmade ornaments) survived in their cardboard boxes for so long is a mystery.
Weebles wobble...

I must have kept hold of that purple marker we used for the tree topper without my mother's knowledge, because all my pictures from that time period have been "Nikishopped" with purple marker. I especially liked drawing around the eyes. (See that boat? That's a Weeble boat... not the silly looking Weebles they sell these days, but the original egg-shaped creatures.)
The 2008 "mish-mash" tree

For years I believed everyone decorated their Christmas tree just like we did. Only after I met my husband did I realize tree-trimming is a form of artistic expression for some people. My MIL's trees had new themes and color schemes every year. I was impressed. Her trees seemed to mirror her experiences, her heart, from the preceding year.

The year before my husband and I met the Lord, our tree was decorated with a selection of clearance ornaments from K-Mart... it was the tree of misfit toys. All the ornaments were broken or deformed in some way. Looking back on it, that was an accurate representation of where we were at the time.

2010, the "bird" tree
These days I incorporate what I hope is the best of both worlds: traditional ornaments my kids recognize with glee and a theme or style that means something to me about our family's spiritual journey that year. One year it was gifts, representing all the gifts God has bestowed upon us. One year I was tired and frustrated and my three sons and future SIL decorated the tree without me. I cried when I saw it, because it looked like I felt... a mess.

Last year my tree was filled with birds. Why? Because I was clinging to Matthew 6:26, "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"

This year? I'm still not sure. I've added a few things to my pre-lit, artificial tree (my mother would hate it), but I have no solid theme this year, which is an accurate representation of the crazy transitional year we've had! And this is my first Christmas as a grandmother, aka Mimi, which means I'm willing to do just about anything to bring a smile to grandson Talen's face!

Right now, I'm leaning toward a "crown" theme, because no matter what, Jesus Christ IS the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and that's all I need to remember this season!

Merry Christmas!

Mother of four and grandmother of one, Niki Turner is an only child, wife of a former pastor, and writer of fiction, blog posts, Facebook status updates, a tweet here and there, and lots of long grocery lists. She also writes, copyedits, and proofreads for the local newspaper, Her first completed manuscript was a finalist in the 2009 Touched by Love contest. If you like this post, please "follow" me at my personal blog, In Truer Ink.


  1. Thanks for leading us off with such a wonderful post. Just what I expected. Love the photos especially your "monocle".

    I've never done theme trees either. And I was glad when I could send kids' ornaments out to them as we do the "new ornament every year" and we were starting to stack them 3 to a branch.

    We had a couple trees like that first one. Ones we took out of our Spruces to thin them. Not pretty!

  2. Deb, it never occurred to me to send all those kid ornaments away with them! What a plan!

  3. Niki- Loved this story! As you know I am struggling this holiday season. I have spent so many of the past Christmas's with my mom not having her this year is a very strange feeling. She loved Christmas so much, it would bring her such joy every year. Then we lost my brother Artie on Halloween, 2006 and we all seen a major change in her without her "elf" around each Christmas after that.

    I tried to do all he had always done for her; decorating and such things but I would look at her face and know she was watching me do what was always Artie's job and I knew she would never again have that old Christmas joy she once knew and it would brake my heart.

    Now mom is gone too and my heart is broken but I will try to find my Christmas spirit, hard though it will be but is what both Artie and my mom would want me to do.

    There is no doubt will be tears but there will be smiles too!
    Thanks for letting me share...

  4. Niki--

    You've set the bar high for our twelve days of Christmas. I love the purple marker too.

    We have a theme this year--all unbreakable pointsettias--to keep our ornaments unscathed from our new kitten.

    Donna--hugs to you. I lost my mother not quite three years ago, and the holidays can be a difficult time as we juggle happy memories with family against the stark contrast of their absence. May God grant you a blessed Christmas season with tidings of comfort.

  5. Oh Donna, I'm so glad you commented today! My maternal grandmother died very suddenly in December when I was only five (she was 47). My mom struggled for so long, because she wouldn't reach out to anyone, wouldn't talk about how she felt, wouldn't even talk about her mom. In fact, we barely mentioned my grandmother's name around the house. I firmly believe you are doing exactly what you need to do to come through the grieving process with your memories of your mom and your Christmas spirit fully intact! ((HUGS)) Lots of people love you and are praying for you, because you are a blessing!

  6. Hi Barb!
    Funny you mention the unbreakable ornaments... last night the dogs saw a deer in the yard and raced to the windows behind the tree. Those glass orbs don't survive harsh encounters with the window very well! Back to the satin-wrapped ones and the plastic ones for me!

  7. Niki--have you ever seen a cat with a satin ornament? It's like giving them a ball of yarn. Satin thread all over the house.

    Of course, now I have a living room floor covered with fake pointsettia pieces and glitter, so I'm not sure it's that much better.

  8. LOL... yes, I forgot about cats with those satin ornaments! My favorite "cat ornament" of all time, however, was that loose tinsel stuff that came in a box and you kind of flung it onto the tree? Why the cat never stopped EATING the tinsel after the first year or two I still don't understand!

  9. Someone--aka my husband--dropped a whole box of glass ornaments while we were cleaning out our garage this summer. Now we have mostly plastic ornaments. I do love the lights on a christmas tree no matter the decorations, the lights just seem magical.

    Oh, and if you turn the decorating over to a 6 and 7 year old be prepared to have a beautiful tree... from the waist down.

    BTW, Niki, I think you should sport a purple monocle in your promo pic. I could help with that...

  10. Donna, welcome to the Inkwell. We LOVE to hear from readers!

    I had such a tough time the holiday after my grandmother passed. It was bittersweet. Hugs, as you soldier on.

  11. Hi, Niki. As a kid, I never realized the importance of the "first Christmas", special yearly, and handmade ornaments kids make for their parents. But my first Christmas away from home, I appreciated that my mom gave me all the ornaments that I loved so much as a kid. And once my son was born, I grew to appreciate those "first Christmas", handmade, and special yearly ornaments.

    This is a wonderful post, Niki.

  12. Lisa, I'm giggling. Between the tree decorated from the waist down idea and the monocle in my promo pic, ROFL. Hey, monocles ARE kind of steampunk... and I like steampunk.

    I must agree about the lights. Something about Christmas lights just turns the ordinary into the extraordinary!

  13. Suzie, that is so cool... like I told Deb, it never even occurred to me to send those homemade ornaments on with each kid! I'm going to rummage through the boxes and separate the ones the kids made while they were in public school and set them aside!

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  15. Great post, Niki. I love your photos! They're gems. I could relate to your knee socks and short dress in the circa 1977 pic. My "twelve days" pic boasts the same look, with groovy shoes, too...ooh.

    I've never done a theme tree, but I'm inspired! Our tree is decorated with a mish mash of glass, crosses, teapots, school projects, a llama (which I love), and a leg lamp from the movie, A Christmas Story.

    I remember our trees from the years when we had small kids in the house. A lot of plastic and cloth.

    Thanks, Niki.

  16. Ha ha, Susie! If I remember correctly, the shoes I had on were these clunky brown lace-up loafers. Horrible things.

    Donna (see above) has a full size leg lamp in her front window. I've seen folks slowing down to look. Pretty fun!

  17. Thanks so much for stepping forward with our first ever 12 Days of Christmas post, Niki. Love the pics - wish they were bigger, though. :)

    Nelson and I used the same tree for 30 yrs. He hated putting on the lights because I insisted on ensuring there weren't any dark areas. And no colors close together, either. I never seen him agree to buying anything so fast as when I pointed out a $60 pre-lit tree on a Boxing Day special and mentioned it was probably time for a new tree.

    The lights aren't as bright as our old big ones, and when one goes out, a whole string goes dark as well. But the tree has half a dozen strings, so it's not catastrophic. And he'd rather search one string than string lights. Go figure. LOL

    Sorry I didn't respond earlier. Was on a deadline to finish the first chapter of my Pony Express novella on Monday and went south to North Dakota yesterday.

    Really looking forward to the rest of the 12 Inky Days of Christmas.

    Again, good job Niki.

    Anita Mae.

  18. Merci beaucoup, Anita!

    Yes, my husband was also quite pleased when the first pre-lit tree arrived at our house. He was the finicky one, though, insisting on MORE than the 100 lights per foot recommended by decorators.

    Anyone tried the LED lights yet?


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