Thursday, December 19, 2019

Oh, Christmas tree, real or artificial -- Dec. 19, 2019 column


Decades after Thomas Edison first draped a strand of electric lights outside in 1880, a teenager named Albert Sadacca saw the future of Christmas lights, so the story goes.

Sadacca’s family owned a novelty lighting company, and young Albert in 1917 suggested they offer brightly colored strands of Christmas lights.

Albert and his brothers formed the National Outfit Manufacturers Association (NOMA), a trade group that became known as NOMA Electric. NOMA’s members cornered the market on Christmas lights until the 1960s, according to the Library of Congress.

So imagine my surprise when I unpacked my Christmas decorations and found again in its torn cardboard box a NOMA Sparkling Tree Top Star -- “Lights Up with Sparkling Halo Effect.”

Made in the USA, the star is simplicity itself, metal painted white on a silver glitter base. A single bulb on a cord lights the star. The handwritten pricetag says it cost a princely $1.45.

The star graced, if that’s the right word, the top of my family Christmas tree when I was a child but hasn’t been used in decades. Still, I can’t bring myself to toss it, so it lives in a storage tub, along with a couple of tangled strands of long-unused, multi-colored outdoor bulbs with rusty clips.

I also have strands of little, tasteful, white and multi-colored lights I bought this century. They were made in China, Cambodia and Mexico.

My typical Christmas decorating consists of making do. So I put the little lights and ornaments on the two spindly Norfolk Island pines I’ve pressed into Christmas service for going on 20 years. Done.

But the blazing summer of 2019 was brutal to my elderly trees. They needed a season of rest, and I needed a Christmas tree, but what kind?

Naturally, I turned to Facebook for advice. I told my friends I was considering an artificial tree for the first time. Good idea or bad?

It wasn’t even close. Almost all my friends extolled the virtues of artificial trees.

You can save money and avoid the mess of dried pine needles, Pam said, concisely summarizing the argument. 

“Only drawback is they don’t smell as good as fresh cut,” said Joe. But Annie counseled: “Solve the aroma problem with a pine or cypress scented candle -- and let your light shine.”

Rachel added another practical consideration. “No hauling one to the curb after Christmas is over.” Plus, “My dog will eat anything and everything on the floor and I didn’t want to worry about getting pine needles up before she did.”

Bobbi said her family had loved their real trees for years, but she developed an allergy, maybe to insecticide or sap.

“Got an artificial tree and just got a second smaller one this year after selling our old one,” she said. This year, they also got a tabletop real tree for their back porch.

But Jim adamantly opposed the artificial: “My daughter had one for several years, and we shamed her every Christmas. She called last week and invited us to join her cutting down a real tree at Christmas Tree Farm,” he wrote. “She’s been allowed back in the family.”

Another Jim mentioned a decision when buying the artificial tree you’ll have for years: white lights, multi-colored lights or no lights?

This was getting complicated. We looked at artificial trees with white lights and they were beautiful, even without decorations. Price made them a commitment.

We decided to check out the real trees at the annual Alexandria Police Christmas tree sale. A good cause, the sale is the main fundraiser to send local kids to summer camp in Kilmarnock, Va.

Santa’s nice helpers helped us choose, trim and rope to the car roof top a 6-foot Fraser fir from West Virginia.

Once we put it up, we saw its bare spots, but you really can’t now that it’s repositioned and decorated. In the front window, the tree looks pretty with its warm, multicolored lights. At the top is a papier-mâché angel. She doesn’t light up or sparkle, and that’s fine.

Yes, I have to remember to add water and sweep up needles every day, and when we have to haul the tree outside for recycling, it’ll leave a trail of needles.

But that’s later. For now, it’s bright and cheery – and it feels right for us. Merry Christmas!  

©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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