It was a small tree. It sat on a table draped with a fluffy white sheet meant to represent snow. It blocked our view out the front window but, when the multicolored lights were lit, it was a festive sight for those passing on the street in front of the house. We had spent the previous evening at the Christmas tree lot choosing the perfect one. Dad always chose one under four feet so it would sit well below the ceiling when placed on the table that for years had been honored as our tree's perch.
It was a few weeks before the big day that we had brought it home. Dad stablilized the tree in the stand so that it stood upright. After this bit of bother his next words were, "Put the kettle on. We'll have a cuppa tea first." While the water boiled he lifted the tree to it's position in front of the window. Mom had put out the drape cloth, the afore mentioned fuzzy snow replacement, which he wound arond the base covering the stand. The whistle of the kettle brought him back to the kitchen table. Mom made the tea, kettle to the pot and pot to the kettle--the English ritual for making a proper pot of tea. While the tea sat drawing Dad would sit pondering the decoration sequence.
Mom and I would sit quietly sipping our tea looking at Dad looking at the tree. Mom would lift the plate of biscuits offering me one. Dad would take one and bite into it absent mindedly while he still pondered the tree. Its presence was filling the air with the scent of pine, a fresh out doors smell which said Christmas. The fragrance of pine needles and baking cookies was heavenly to me. I pondered this as I bit into my chocolate laced biscuit.
As Dad put his cup back on the table, following his second cuppa, he looked at us and slowly rose. With a smile he would say, "Let's get those decorations out, shall we?"
The anticipation erupted, finally, into the tradition of adorning the tree. Mom and Dad reached up into the top shelf of the closet pulling down the lights, garland, and ornaments. Dad's first job, along with words I wasn't allowed to use, was untangling the strings of lights.
"Those blasted elves must get into that closet some time during the year and bugger up these strings," he said with other choice words. When they were liberated from their tangles I would grab one end to stretch it out. He would plug them in to check that they all lit. That done he'd give one end to me. I'd have to stand on a chair to place my end in the tree. Holding that, dad would wind them from limb to limb all the way around. One or two strings would be enough. For a couple of years we had the exotic bubbling lights. Like little candles the base would clip onto a limb with the glass candle sitting vertically. The light was in the base. It would shine it's red, yellow, blue or green light up through the glass candle. After a few minutes the heat of the bulb would cause the liquid inside to bubble. They would be put on last. They were the crowning glory of lights.
Next came the garland. Mom and Dad would loop the long sparkling boa like strings from limb to limb in a spiral to the bottom. The ornaments were brought out then. Each of us would slide the hooks onto the glass orbs then find the perfect limb to adorn.
"Remember this one?" Each of us had our favorite. It always elicited that response. "Remember this one? We got it two years ago. You wanted this one, Rickey. It brightened your eyes and you kept asking for it." Not all of them. Only a few special ones required comment.
My favorite part came next.
"Alright. Here's a handful of icicles for each of us," Mom would say draping long strands of silvery aluminum over our hands. I would grab a a handful and throw them at the limbs. A haphazard conglomerate of silver would clump on there.
"No, not like that," Mom would say taking the mass from the tree. "Like this." She would drape them a few at the time on each limb. Hers looked like icicles dripping down. "Here, try it."
Though it was contrary to my wanting to toss them I would lay them gently across the branches. It looked better but it wasn't as much fun. Dad always shook his head as he watched me. He didn't say much but his smile was comforting.
With the icicles on he would plug the lights in. Colors would burst forth. While we watched admiringly one string would invariably go out. Dad would mumble more words I wasn't allowed to say while he reached for the spare bulbs. For the next 10 minutes or so he would unscrew a light and screw in a new one to see if they lit again. He always seemed to find the burned out bulb at the end of the string. Once again we stood admiring. Once again a string would go out. "Bugga!" Dad would say leaning over for another bulb. Mom and I would sit patiently quiet while he made his way through the string. When all the faulty bulbs were tossed in the trash we would walk into the front yard and stand before the window.
The house lights would be out so that the glory of the tree's illumination could be seen through the front window.
"It's a nice tree," Dad would say. A few more moments of admiration beamed from the three of us as we stood in the cold. That done we went inside and put the kettle on.