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Life as performance art

Life as performance art


By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

The fact more people are buying artificial Christmas trees is alarming to tree farmers. It takes the better part of a decade to raise and shape a natural tree, so some are thinking they may be getting out of the business.

When I was growing up, our family always had a fresh tree of the short needle persuasion, because that meant we could put every possible ornament on it.

First came strings of the big torpedo lights that came in many colors. We had a string of bubble lights which, if they were slightly off bubble, didn’t bubble at all.

Then came balls, baubles and finally, lots of tinsel. Too much tinsel. On top was an angel who looked like the good witch from the Wizard of Oz. Two or three times a day, someone was delegated to crawl under the tree and pour water in the holder.

Our ever-so-sophisticated aunt and uncle would get a live tree, then take it to a decorator who hosed it down with white foam to create a “flocked tree.”

My cousin, especially the year he wanted his two front teeth for Christmas, was instructed to call it a “snowy tree” in case a slip of the tongue would land him on Santa’s naughty list. Anyone who sneezed near their trees sent a blizzard of artificial snow into the bowels of the shag carpet.

And our other aunt, who had been a flapper in Chicago in the 1920s, and her husband went ultra-modern with a tinfoil tree.

Because it might be an electric fire hazard, there were no lights on it, but they did splurge and buy a rotating colored light accessory that sat on the floor.

They were proud of this artificial monstrosity and kept it in the front parlour window so everyone could see it.

We all have our own tree preferences. There is something warm and nostalgic about walking into a house where a fresh-cut tree sits in a place of honor. That is, if you are not allergic to pines, firs or spruces, in which case an artificial tree makes more sense.

An antique dealer told me the other day customers flood into the store looking for old decorations and lights, even the 1950s style aluminium trees. They come hoping to find packages of tinsel, along with toys from their childhood era.

They look for the strings of electricity-guzzling lights, and hope to come across a spray bottle or two of artificial snow to “flock” their trees.

This seems odd but makes sense. From time to time we all want to escape back to a setting that feels safer and more familiar.

Maybe it’s a realization that life then was pretty good, and we can work on creating wonderful memories for the future.