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Gathering ‘round the tree

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By Kate Darnell

At my house, the Christmas tree assembly and decoration marks the official kick-off to the holiday season.

If the Christmas tree is up, then it is deemed okay to buy presents, wrap presents and start making fruit cake.

The Christmas tree might be the center of all family holiday festivities, but it can also be the cause of some family disagreements... at least in the Darnell household.

There is the all important debate over white lights versus colored lights.

Strings of beads or ribbon?

A bow at the top or a tree-topper?

The fight over live trees versus artificial was won by the fake firs years ago at our house, but the argument over how that artificial tree is assembled remains in progress. Weeks after decorating the tree one year, we discovered the tree’s three parts were all discombobulated. The bottom was at the top, the middle was at the bottom, etc.

“Do you know why we put up Christmas trees?” Trish Jenkins came in my office and asked me early Monday morning, as if she had been pondering the question the entire weekend.

I hadn’t ever questioned why we erected, lit and decorated our large tree every year.

But Trish is a lady who demands answers.

So I tried to find some for her. It was a bit difficult... there seems to be a variety of stories explaining the origins of the Christmas tree.

According to Wikipedia, the Christmas tree precedes many of its current Christian associations. Ancient pagans first decorated an evergreen tree with apples and other fruits as part of their winter solstice celebrations.

Germans added apples to the tree decorations later on in history, symbolizing Adam and Eve.

The apples soon turned into red balls during the Victorian Era, when the Christmas tree was also used to scare evil forces away for the new year.

Christian lore, Wikipedia reports, accounts St. Boniface and the German town of Geismar with the beginning of the time-honored traditional Christmas tree.

When St. Boniface cut down the oak tree of Thor to disprove the legitimacy of the Norse gods to the local German tribe, he saw a fir tree growing in the roots of the oak.

He proclaimed the fir a sign of the Christian faith, saying “...let Christ be at the center of your households...”

According to www.allthingschristmas.com, German theologian and reformer Martin Luther was known to place candles on the leaves of the evergreen trees as symbols of the stars.

While the earliest Christmas tree in the United States can be traced back to 1777, Christmas trees didn’t become popular until an image of the English royal family standing in front of a Christmas tree was copied and brought to the United States. Once American upper classes saw the English royals celebrating around a tree, the idea caught on and now Christmas trees can be found in living rooms across the country during the holiday season.

And that is my report, Mrs. Jenkins.

But for me, the interesting part of the Christmas tree isn’t the light, the top, the skirt or the strings of beads.

It’s the ornaments.

As I’ve made known in past columns, I love a good story. And that’s what ornaments do for a Christmas tree. They tell a story - one that’s usually less difficult than the story about the origin of the Christmas tree.

“Which is your favorite ornament?” my mother asked my nephew one night as we sat admiring our tree.

“Probably this one...” he said, picking up an ornament from the middle of the tree (and this year, it really is the middle).

I’ve forgotten what ornament Will picked, but it was the ornament that stood next to Will’s favorite that caught my eye.

Right in the front of our Christmas tree hangs an ornament that I was surprised to see.

Dating back to my elementary school days at Southside, it’s a red plastic apple displaying ‘Kate’ in white puffy paint on the front.

That plastic apple ornament, probably made by a patient teacher for every student in my first or second grade class, is almost 20 years old, far outliving its shelf life.

My mother, who sometimes can’t remember where she placed her reading glasses just five minutes earlier, has managed to keep this red plastic apple for 20 years.

But there’s even more “special” ornaments on our tree other than my red apple.

There’s the beautiful gold ornaments that Mom would always declare “breakable” whenever my brother and I unloaded them from a box.

There’s the ornament listing the names of my parents’ grandchildren.

There’s the many ornaments my mother received from years of students hoping for an “A” in her English or computer classes.

There’s a silver set of doves from Hospice, in memory of my grandmother.

And there’s all those odd little ornaments that lack a special story, but are enjoyed simply because they’ve always been there.

A couple weekends ago, my niece and nephew ran into my room to show me the ornament they had just bought for me.

It’s a flamingo on ice skates.

They know I love flamingos.

Next year, my flamingo on ice skates will have a prime spot on my very own Christmas tree.

Hopefully, it will be the start of a beautiful Christmas tree ornament story.