It’s not what’s under the tree that matters…

The first recorded decorated Christmas tree was created by a group of local merchants in Latvia (let’s hear it for the entrepreneurs!) in 1510. They decorated the tree with artificial roses, danced around it in the marketplace and then set fire to it (not a practice I recommend). The tradition evolved from there, making its way to the United States in the 1800s, introduced here by German settlers.

Nothing symbolizes the holiday season quite like a beautiful tree aglow with lights, laden with shiny ornaments, tinsel, with a splattering of treasures crafted by little hands created from macaroni, yarn, pinecones, and a wide variety of other unlikely materials. Lastly, it is capped off with the perfect star or angel. Whether yours comes from a box and requires “minor” assembling, or involves a trip to your favorite tree farm, the Christmas tree is an integral part of the holiday season.

I have fond memories of bundling up the kids and taking them to the tree farm. Their eyes filled with wonder as they were greeted by Father Christmas and Mrs. Claus. It was then time to take the saw and cart and begin the formidable task of finding the “perfect” tree. The elusive tree is located many times throughout the process as you hear cries of, “this one, this has to be the one. Wait, this one is better, oh but it has a bald spot in the back, how about this one?” Finally, everyone agrees, and the sawing process begins. Invariably, this requires the cutter to lay on the cold ground, often in the snow, to get the perfect angle. The tree is then loaded on the cart and the trip, which is much further than you realized since you had wandered so far, back to the car begins. The tree is then hoisted onto the roof, ready for the drive home.

Arriving at home, the tree is taken inside where you soon realize that it is much larger inside than it appeared to be outside! No worries, however, as you trim away to make it fit. Next, the Christmas music is turned on, setting the proper mood. This is the exact time in the process that I usually lost my helpers, and I was left to untangle the enmeshed strings of lights. There may or may not have been one particular year that scissors were involved, not a method I would suggest if you are hoping to salvage all of the lights. Once the lights are in place, my helpers would return for the addition of the ornaments. The final step was then to turn out the lights and gaze in wonder at its magnificence. Oohs and awes emanated from everyone as we admired our handywork.

So many of our Christmas memories and traditions are centered around this important holiday icon. In “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the culmination of the story is the scene where the residents of Whoville are all gathered hand in hand around their community tree welcoming Christmas. Who can forget the opening scenes of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when Clark Griswold gathers the family in a quest for their holiday tree? After walking through the snow for hours, they pick their tree, but without a saw, are forced to pull up the tree by its roots. There was much grumbling, but family bonding as well.

The way you choose to uphold this tradition with your family is not the important part, the memories and togetherness that it creates is what truly matters. Charlie Brown taught us as children that a tree doesn’t have to be big, expensive, or even elaborately decorated to be your perfect tree. The “Peanuts” gang demonstrated this with their slightly bent, nearly bare tree decorated with a single red ball and swaddled by Linus’s blanket. In fact, he worded it perfectly as he stated, “It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree that matters, it’s who’s around it.”

May you enjoy this holiday season with your loved ones.


Rhonda S. Kelley is executive director of the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce.


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