Now you’ve done it, you worked your way clear of all the usual chores, you’ve cleaned up the mess from Thanksgiving, run the relatives off, bought and wrapped all of your presents, hung the lights outside and now it’s time for a well deserved rest. Not a chance. Have you put up the tree, yet?
I didn’t think so. You can blame it all on Prince Albert. He’s the one who got the ball rolling in the whole of the western world. Oh it’s true George the III’s wife Charlotte started the custom, but it didn’t get much play outside the Royal Family and you know how open and free with information the family is so it should come as no big surprise that the tradition, which is German and not really a proper British tradition at all, didn’t make much of a noise until Prince Albert started putting up the ole tree in Windsor palace round about 1841. Then of course the paparazzi got wind of it and as they usually do, they carved out a woodcut, (What you thought they had cameras with long lenses in the middle of the nineteenth century?)and published it in the London Illustrated News in 1848 and like a recording by the Kingston Trio it took off like a rocket.
Tell you how big a deal it was our Canadian cousins got the word nearly seventy-five years earlier, cause the Brunswick soldiers stationed in Quebec put up trees way back in 1781, but you know how stuck up and convinced that their way is the only way Staties can be, (No it is not fair to call those people living in the United States Americans like they were the only ones on the whole continent. That sort of pisses off the Canadians and Mexicans and all of the South Americans and we’d better be nice to them because they have oil and with the way the folks in the Middle East are revolting and revolutionizing we might just need some of that good ole American oil so be nice to the other guys living on the American continent and don’t say Americans when you actually mean Staties.), so we either didn’t get the word or didn’t pay attention until Albert gave us all a wake up call on trees!
So when you are crawling around in the attic or fighting the cob webs in the storage shed thank Prince Albert. He’s the guy who started it all.
“I am a legitimate artists, why do I care a fiddler’s fig about Christmas trees?” well for one thing, “She Who Must be Obeyed” told you to dig it out and then there are the kids and grandkids and the neighbors will talk and you can’t have anyone over until at least the tenth of January unless you put up that tree.
And besides, Christmas trees are a wonderful subject for artists to work with. Turn the lights on and you have the Fourth of July with all of the glitter and sparkle of fireworks without the noise and the burnt fingers and aren’t you glad you live now when tree lights are mostly LEDs and not candles which you have to light every night and then stand by with a bucket of sand because if you throw water on the burning tree in the middle of the living room you will be homeless for New Years.
Turn off the lights and the ornaments twinkle and glitter like they were telling secrets only children can hear and if you are old as the hills like me maybe you even have a string of bubble lights you can put on the tree and the grandkids will swallow their gum cause they’ve never seen anything like that at all.
Kids and dogs by the tree make wonderful subjects too and no it doesn’t have to be all Norman Rockwell gushy, icky sugary stuff, just try to capture the look of joy in a child’s eye or the complete trust and affection of ole Rover as he waits for the boy to get bored with wrapping packages and go outside.
Cat’s do amazing things with trees, some of which we can even talk about in mixed company, but they move like lightning and you have to be quick like bunny or Russian winter fox or you’ll miss it completely.
Of course you could have a camera handy and catch the image for later in the year when you are fighting off that mid-winter doldrums thingy and need something to spark your creative juices. It’s not cheating to paint from a photograph.
Or you could do something artistic with the tree like my pal in Maine. Jack is a fisherperson and lived for many years just around the corner from a bend in the river. There were trout and salmon to be had and many a fisherperson spent their hard earned money trying to catch their weight in yummy fish, but alas, they came away empty handed with nothing to show, but bitter disappointment. And they left behind their broken tackle and lost lures and Jack, clever and resourceful, repurposed these forgotten mementos into ornaments for a Fisherman’s tree.
And this guy is a sportsman! But beware, Mr. Jack has taken up the ancient Asian art of rock mounting, I know it sounded strange to me, but for a guy like Jack it can be beautiful art in a matter of days. So watch your six, Mr. Jack is taking his show on the road.
Six year ago when we move from Dallas to Oregon we gave away most of our Christmas ornaments. The boy, Lurch, had a houseful of sprouts and had a crying need for ornaments, so we palmed-off, er…gave him most of the stuff. Then there were the friends who wanted a piece of us to remember the good ole days of song and bridge and we passed a few boxes along to them too. It seemed stupid to pack and pay the movers to cart Christmas ornaments half way across the country.
So when we landed in Oregon we had few Christmas goodies in our boxes. Truth be told we arrived on the Fourth of July and spent the next five months getting settled in. There were some adjustments, we left a twenty one hundred square foot brick three bedroom and moved into a fourteen hundred square foot manufactured home which we paid two and half times more for, roads on the coast so narrow that a hundred mile strip is like the Donner Party making it over the mountains and the sounds of sea lions and waves every night, okay it was worth every minute.
But it meant we made it to Christmas before we were ready and hadn’t the energy or the goods to put up a tree, but Christmas without a tree is un-British which you would know if you’d been following this post and so we girded our loins and gathered our shields and set out to Christmas.
We found a tree at the Salvation Army, hey, no kids in the house and the closest ones twenty-two hundred miles away, some compromises can be acceptable. So we had a tree, but not much to put on it, what to do? The United States Postal Service came to our rescue. The mailman started delivering Christmas cards.
You know the deal with cards, you read them, toss the newsletters and save the envelopes cause you really do mean to write down the addresses, but you get so busy after Christmas that before you know it, the cards are in the trash and the tree is out by the curb and you are frantically trying to get ready for Valentines.
Here we were with seven hundred square feet less than we had back in Texas, a bare tree and cards coming in every day because we had just moved and all of our old pals were trying to be good, kind, human beings and keep in touch even though they really needed to get the kids packed and off to that ski vacation their successful sister paid for but didn’t explain how to manage the launch and keep the house running at the same time, what to do?
We started putting the cards on the tree. At first it seemed like a smart way to avoid losing them and then it got to be the best place to keep them away from the cats and out of the garbage and one day we looked and the tree looked pretty amazing with all of the Christmas cards standing in for ornaments. And the light bulb went off, “We could do this every year, getting to enjoy the cards right through New Year’s (and beyond cause you know you’re not going to get the tree down before the first of February), saving money, being respectful of the environment and not adding to the mound of trash swallowing up the oceans. Holly Green Peace, Batman, we’re environmentally conscious!
And we did just that. We created a Christmas tradition of our own. It probably won’t take off like Albert’s tree thingy, but then I’m not a prince and don’t have the world press clamoring to make woodcuts about everything I do.
So you see, with just a little bit of thought you can make that ole tree do a lot more than just serve as a place for tin foil icicles. Paint it, card it, gather family around it or just enjoy the sight of it, Christmas only comes once a year and is over far too fast and there are too few of them. Take a minute to find a way to make your Christmas more than just a day…