In our family, Christmas is about traditions and togetherness more than it is about religious fanfare. Our traditions go back decades, and have passed down through 4 generations. The most important tradition we have during the holidays is the lengthy process we have to decorate our Christmas tree.
Most people I know have an artificial tree and setup it up one evening. And sometimes there's no plan for how the ornaments, garland, or lights are placed, or installed on the tree.
Our family uses a real tree, and it takes us three-four days to get the whole tree done.
No matter the year, our tree is named "Bob". When my father was in school for the NAVY, there was a gentlemen in his class that went a little crazy one day, and told everyone that he was a tree. His name was Bob.
Follow me on a photographic journey of how we decorate Bob!
Getting The Tree
First up is traveling to a local tree selling location and picking out our tree. Sometimes this can take a few minutes, and other years we spend a very long time weighing the options.
We make sure the tree is tall enough. It has a to be very full and the branches must be sturdy.
After we make a unanimous decision, we strap it to the roof of the car and head home.
Cutting The Base
With all live trees, it's incredibly important to cut off the tree base before you position it in the tree stand. This makes sure the tree can get ample water and food. We use an ancient bow saw that we've used to cut every tree we've had.
When we were younger, my father was the Bow Saw Man, but, as with all things, it gets passed down and I've been the official tree cutter for years.
Getting The Tree In The Stand
We have the tree place bundle the tree in plastic tree netting. This has only been an option recently, and it's been one that's made getting the tree in the house super easy.
The netting holds the limbs in place until we have the tree positioned correctly in the stand, and then we just cut the netting away, resulting in a perfectly positioned tree every time.
Special Tree Juice
We make special tree juice for our tree with the ingredients shown in the photo: bleach, aspirin, molasses, and water. The secret recipe has been passed down from my grandfather, to my father, to me, and then to my children.
The aspirin opens the tree's capillaries, the bleach keeps the capillaries open, the molasses is the food, and the water mixes it all together. When mixed correctly, the Special Tree Juice closely resembles tree sap.
Strands And Bulbs
Accordingly to the family the only real light bulbs are ceramic coated incandescent. They put off the best warm glow.
The bulbs in our light strands have a specific color order that we've used for 60+ years. Each year the bulbs are removed from the strands and stored in a box. The bulbs and strands are stored separately.
The following year we inspect the bulbs to see if their coating is missing, or if they have garland melted to them.
Lights On The Tree
When we attach the lights to the tree, we start at the top and work toward the bottom. We stop periodically to make sure there are no "dead spots"-- Areas of the tree in which there is no light present.
Sometimes we have to take the strands off and start all over again, because it's very important to have the tree lit from the inside, while have lights at the ends of the limbs.
Putting the lights on our tree is definitely an art-form.
Cherubs On The Tree
These cherubs used to belong to my wife's mother, and ever since her passing we've added them to our tree.
There are 10 in total, and the lights get stuck up their butts. It can be difficult to get them in just the right spot, but we've had years of practice.
My father is a retired submariner. When we was still in the NAVY we used to use this submarine on a light strand in our kitchen. That strand eventually died and the submarine was stored in our light box for many years.
When we started putting the cherubs on the tree, we realized we could use the Santa submarine yet again, and now it has become part of the process. Which is good, because we can honor my father's service in this way.
This boot was once a part of a tree watering system. Over the years the tubing stopped working, and with the addition of numerous ornaments, we couldn't safely use the boot.
So instead, we put the boot up as an ornament in homage of how it was once used.
Recently, we created a more efficient watering system: A PVC pipe painted like a candy cane that gets positioned in the tree base.
The Tree With All The Lights
Now that all the lights are on the tree; it's time to make things extra complicated.
We started with only one green/red box to house all our ornaments, and over the last several decades we've grown to needing a total of four boxes.
First we added the solid red box: Bob Box Ver 2.0.
Then we added the solid green box: Bob Box Ver 3.0 Lights and Garland.
And most recently we added the solid blue box: Bob Box Ver 4.0.
These four boxes house all our ornaments from 1958 thru the previous year. We arrange all the ornament boxes on the table in chronological order.
Garland And Those Stupid Snowflakes
Sometimes it is a day or two between when we have all the lights on the tree and when we put the garland on. It's not an exact science as to why this happens.
We have a copious amount of garland in our box. Too much in fact. So every year we have to lay it all out in piles, and select which strands will go on the tree.
This is where we can get creative and make different selections year-to-year. The concept is to have garland on the tree-- not to have the same color garland in the same place.
After the garland is selected and delicately placed, we put on the stupid snowflakes.
We have a love/hate relationship with the snowflakes. They look really pretty, and help make the tree look "wintery," BUT they can get tangled if you blink wrong. For years we would untangle the strands prior to installation, and now we keep the strands on card board, so they don't get tangled.
Work smarter; not harder, I say.
Stuffed Animal Tree
Most children have a stuffed animal that they simply cannot live without.
Years ago, my sister wanted a tree for her stuffed bunny Puffy. The tree was complete with its own ornaments, garland, and lights.
Over time, the original Puffy Tree became unusable and we needed a replacement tree.
Now we have a tree for all the stuffed animals. The kids usually setup this tree when the garland and snowflakes go on the big Christmas tree.
The ornaments go on the tree in chronological order from 1958 until the present year. The person that the ornament belongs to is usually responsible for putting the ornament on the tree, but sometimes they can put someone else in charge.
This process can take anywhere from two to five hours depending how quickly the ornaments come out of the boxes.
Icicles And Tinsel
The tree lights get turned off when we put the icicles and tinsel on the tree.
We have homemade icicles and plastic icicles (that we've had for decades) that go on the tree after the ornaments. Some of the icicles get placed, other icicles get thrown into the tree because they don't have a hook.
Our tinsel is a collection of all the tinsel strands we've used over the years. We even have some strands from other family members and from friends. We replace strands periodically, but usually we just take the tinsel off the tree and reuse it the following year.
The process for tinsel installation is to let gravity to the work, or blow it onto the tree. It shouldn't ever be placed, nor should it be clumpy. We'll go back and do an area again if the tinsel doesn't look right.
The final piece of the tree is the tree-topper, which happens to be an angel. This is angel Ver 2.0, as the first one finally lost its ability to light, and the lights were irreplaceable.
The tree lights are off when the angel goes on, and it's my brother that has the ultimate honor of installing the angel.
Fully Decorated Tree
When everything is on the tree, and were are satisfied with the placement, we all gather on the opposite side of the room waiting for the final reveal.
Someone stays by the tree and flips the switch, and then we all turn around and say "Oooo. Aaaaaa."
We do have some special ornaments involved in the process.
1. The Hidden Mickey: My sister puts the ornament on the tree and hides is in such a way that it may take our father a day or two to find it. There is no prize for finding it, other than the joy of finding the Hidden Mickey.
2. Unicorns: So many unicorns. ALL of the unicorns. My mother is a unicorn freak, and has several unicorns that go on the tree once the yearly ornaments are done. This small unicorn is the most important. It's slightly bigger than a quarter, and super easy to lose when taking the tree down. One time the unicorn was still on the tree when we put the tree outside!
3. Bells: We put jingle bells on branches that might be walked into, in the hopes that we'll jingle in some holiday cheer, and that we'll give an angel some wings.
4. Saturday: My father has a Saturday's ornament he got many years ago. And it's tradition for this ornament to go on the tree-- But in the back of the tree. It may seem strange, because you can't see it unless you're looking behind the tree, but, it's a thing we do.
If you made it this far: I commend you, because this is the end.
I love the way we decorate Bob. Being around family, using traditions that have been around for 60 years, and having a pretty tree as a final result makes the lengthy process all worth it.
I think if future years we may have too many ornaments for one tree and may have to adjust our process, or add in a second (artificial) tree. We'll see what happens.