Trimming The Tree



There is an old European tradition you may know about. It's called "Trimming the Tree," and it refers to the process of decorating a perfectly good, formally live evergreen tree of some type after it has been amputated and brought indoors to suffer the same overheated environment as humans during the Christmas holidays.

Apparently this ritual began long ago when trees were thought to represent a potent life force and were paid great homage at a time of the year when there was a risk that everything else might be dead forever. Who knew?

The celebration process involved placing various ornaments upon said tree. Fruits, nuts and ribbons seem to be among the earliest adornments. Later, lights, in the form of candles were added; light being attributed to Life. One can only imagine the nervous thoughts of a dried-out tree watching candles burn to a nub on its branches. Anyway, this is apparently the origin of "tree trimming."

Now, it must be said that on the infrequent occasions when I visit a barber, if I ask for "just a trim," he will seldom adorn my pate with silver ornaments and tinsel. He seems to understand that there are multiple definitions of "trim," thank goodness.

How the word came to be accepted as "decorating" can be debated, but not here. I accept the spirit, if not the form. If placing various shimmering objects upon a perfectly innocent tree is commonly referred to as "Trimming the Tree," then I am unwilling to contest it.

As a matter of fact, I was once appointed "Trimmer of The Great Tree." It didn't fool me for a minute. It was the old Tom Sawyer ploy of recruitment by deception. Give ‘em a title and they will come -- something like that. Anyway, it was my appointed duty each year to bring in the great tree, mount it upon the great stand and adorn it with the great adornments.

No, I recant. I was only allowed to place multiple strands of tiny, mostly un-electrified colored lights upon each and every bough.

After hours of arrangement and replacement of spent bulbs, I was allowed to plug in the "mother" cord and behold the magnificent presentation. This always resulted in several more hours of re-arrangement.

"There's a hole there."

"You have too many blue ones close together."

"Put a red one in the middle where I want the Santa to go."

All this preceded the days-long process of hiding every vestige of green tree under a startling array of silver, gold, candy stripe and bright objects of every known shape and formulation. Once the cornucopia was finally pronounced done, it was usually sprayed with a fake snow substance and crowned with either a giant star or a benevolent-looking angel. At that point it resembled something more out of 1950s Detroit than a real sure-enough tree, but by golly, it was trimmed.

I have intentionally spared you the unseemly "behind-the-scenes" details which, by necessity, accompanied this ceremony. Time and space will, mercifully, not allow every particle to be revealed. Suffice it to say that Iwo Jima was won with greater ease.

When making the monumental decision of exactly which tree was to be allowed the revered position of representing its brothers in our humble lodgings each year, great weight was given to the extreme density and pointedness of its needles. A tree which had the appearance of a large green porcupine was always highly sought. It had to present a potentially lethal physical challenge. Many times I begged to be allowed to form a tree out of green barbed wire or simply transplant a saguaro for a few weeks -- anything to avoid the more anguished torture of dealing with Canadian balsam or, worse, short needle southern pine. (They don't call ‘em needles for nothing.) It was a plea unheard. After clipping the final colored light into its perfect place, I frequently resembled a person placed in a sack with an angry cat. At that point "trimming" was no longer an acceptable verb. "Demolishing" came quickly to mind.

This poor cone-shaped, metallic looking object would usually make it through Christmas until it was time to un-decorate it. I never heard this referred to as "Un-Trimming the Tree," however. It was clearly understood, though, that an exact reverse process would take place until all the adornments were removed and packed neatly away for another year. The last thing to be removed, of course, were the strands of lights, which by that time had cemented themselves to every branch and bough, and tenaciously clung to each with defiance. Each individual light was closely guarded by clumps of stainless steel needles sharper than surgical instruments, daring any predator to remove their treasure. Only brave and intrepid souls were recruited -- or individuals interested in continuing a relationship with a significant other for another year. It always got done, and the Red Cross was allowed to stand down from full alert.

To all involved in "Trimming the Tree" this year, I salute you.

Merry Christmas.

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