The saying goes that in comedy, timing is everything. The same sentiment can be said for decorating the house and tree for Christmas. In our current environment, when one holiday often overlaps another before the former has a chance to play its final act, the Christmas season encroaches on Thanksgiving — and even Halloween — earlier every year. There were reports by friends of Mister Boomer, as well as in his own experience, that aisles of decorations and artificial trees appeared in retail stores the first week of October this year. That was hardly the case in the boomer years; every holiday had its set time, with little variation.
When it came to the Christmas season, the official start was the day after Thanksgiving for merchants, but not necessarily for individual families. Some stores had their decorations up and Christmas merchandise out on Black Friday, as if by magic — one day there was none, the next, everything. For most, though, the process was gradual, beginning on Black Friday and picking up steam the following week.
In Mister Boomer’s estimation, exactly when the decorations were retrieved from storage, and the tree purchased and decorated, varied widely from family to family. In a large part, it was determined by how the calendar stacked up for the number of weekends before Christmas, the work schedule of the head of the household and family traditions. One thing was certain: the vast majority of households did not decorate their houses or trees until the calendar flipped over to December. There were some families who did not decorate their tree until Christmas Eve.
Of course, there were always those gung-ho-ho-hoers, who saw the Thanksgiving weekend as the perfect time to complete their displays, indoors and out. Yet in Mister B’s neighborhood and family, this was not the case. For Mister Boomer, this meant shopping for a tree with his father around the first or second week in December. In Mister Boomer’s neck of the woods, this coincidentally could coincide with the first measurable snowfall. The family tradition was to have the tree lit around two weeks before Christmas.
The process was a total family affair, beginning with searching for a tree. As a general rule, his father preferred the Scotch Pine variety for its long needles and conical shape. Sometimes the whole family shopped for the tree (it was always a real tree, never artificial in Mister B’s family), other times, it was Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer who accompanied their father on the search. When a tree was purchased and brought home on the roof of the car, it would be moved to the backyard, where Mister B’s father would trim the trunk with his saw, then bring it to the basement and place it into a bucket of water. This allowed the tree to slowly acclimate to the indoors, and have a nice long drink to fluff out its branches. More often than not, the tree purchase occurred on a Friday night or Saturday, so the next day was available for decorating.
The next day, living room furniture was moved away from the corner nearest the picture window. Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer retrieved the tree stand and skirt from the basement storage and set it up in the traditional location. Then Mister B’s father would carry the tree upstairs and secure it in the stand. At the same time, Mister B and his brother hauled out the boxes of lights, ornaments and garland and plopped them in the living room.
Decorating the tree began with the lights being tested before placing them. Any tangled strands were dealt with, and burned out bulbs were replaced, before the stringing could begin. Stringing the lights was the job of Mister Boomer’s father. When the lights were in place, the rest of the family grabbed ornaments, many of which were family heirlooms, attached hooks to the ornament tops, and hung them on the branches. Every year there would be heated discussions about what size ornament should be placed at what position on the tree. As the youngest and smallest, Mister B’s sister had control of hanging ornaments on the lowest branches. There were other considerations in ornament placement, the biggest being an attempt at keeping them away from what the dog could reach. The family pet was a mid-sized animal, and didn’t care one way or the other about ornaments; rather, the dog was more interested in crawling beneath the tree and laying on the skirt. In the process, if an ornament interfered with that goal, it may not necessarily remain attached to a branch.
In most years, tree decorating was a two or even three day task. The final day was when tinsel was applied. In Mister Boomer’s family, that meant placing one strand at a time on select branches. The icicle application on their tree would be restrained and in moderation.
The only other annual decorating Mister Boomer’s family did in the house was the front door, which was the domain of Mister B’s mother. On the outside, the door might be covered with aluminum foil with thick red ribbon applied. Sporting a big bow, it looked like a giant gift box. After a few years, Mister B’s mom took to crafting a wreath out of plastic dry cleaning bags, a trend in the 1960s. Inside, the front door would often be the location for taping up the Christmas cards that arrived.
The process complete, the Christmas season in Mister B’s home was underway.
How about you., boomers? When did your family decorate the tree? Were you a family that decorated the outside of the house as well?