Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas: Retro Christmas

By Merrie Destefano

Thank you all for sharing your Christmas memories. I really enjoyed reading them all!
I used Ranom.org to select a winner and she is: CrystalGB.
Congratulations, Crystal! I'll be contacting you by e-mail to get your mailing address.
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, Chanuka and New Year!!

I have to confess I love old things. It doesn’t matter whether they’re broken, battered or bruised, whether they’re from the 40s, 50s or 60s. Old is good. A piece of tattered lace, a vintage lamp, a sepia-toned photo—almost anything old-fashioned can capture my heart. Especially at Christmas time.

To most people an old-fashioned Christmas means hot cocoa and sugar cookies, Bing Crosby carols and a crackling fire. Nearly everyone has a Christmas memory of opening presents beneath a 7-foot evergreen tree that smells like heaven, while the landscape outside disappears beneath a blanket of fresh snow.

Not me.

The funny thing is I didn’t realize how different my Christmas memories were until I ran into them, head on. I was in a contemporary urban store—one of those trendy California shops that caters to a young, hip crowd—hunting for just the right gift for my twenty-something son, when I saw “it.”

Christmas personified: a spiky silver tree, as fake as they come, with maybe 12 branches total, all made of glittering tinsel. On the floor spun the magic color wheel, a spotlight that shined on the little tree, changing it from yellow to red to blue. And in between the primary colors flickered a million prismatic shades, melting into one another, tumbling over each other, each eager for a split-second moment to transform the world. Saffron changed to scarlet, vermilion to indigo, lavender to tangerine.

Like a deer in headlights, I froze. Lump in my throat. My eyes misting. Suddenly I was ten years old again, sitting on the floor of the apartment I shared with my mom and my sister, staring at our Christmas tree, mesmerized. Watching as the tree changed from emerald to aquamarine while all the other lights were turned down to a mere whisper. Outside an Illinois winter wind howled and icicles dripped from the eaves. Glassy stairways were treacherous and snow flurries spiraled through busy streets—an ever-changing paisley pattern of white on white.

But inside my living room was a drowsy, comforting heat, while in one corner stood all of the magic of Christmas: a tree that was never the same color longer than a heartbeat, surrounded by glittering packages filled with untold promise. Anything could be inside those boxes. A doll, a book, a sweater. A record, a hat, a necklace. The tree was a portal to another world, a land where colors danced and chased one another, where all the hopes and dreams of a year could be answered in an evening. In a moment.

In a fraction of a second, somewhere between amber and honey.

I was startled back to reality when I saw two teenagers staring at my tree, oohing and aaahing and giggling because it was so different. It was retro-chic. I think they liked it because it represented everything that Christmas wasn’t—this tree didn’t have prickly needles or sticky sap, it didn’t embody the fragrance of an evergreen forest at dusk.

What they didn’t realize—what very few people could realize—was what this “Charlie Brown” silver tinsel tree really did represent.

All the hopes and dreams of a ten-year-old girl’s Christmas.



Do you have any Christmas memories that you’d like to share? Comment on mine, or share one of yours, and be entered to win signed copies of both AFTERLIFE and FEAST. Be sure to include your e-mail address in your comment. Giveaway ends midnight Dec. 22.


Roni said...

That's the exact same Christmas tree my ex mother-in-law had. It startled me; we always had a real green tree. She's gone now, but I've always wondered if she ever went back to a green tree, fake or not.


Na said...

One of my favorite Christmas memory is the whole family going sledding. It was such a rush going downhill and so tiring going up but we didn't mind. There was snow and fun. Of course, we had to warm up with great hot food. Being together and having fun was the best part.


Roy Gibbons said...

Oh My The color wheel tree. I hope you bought it quick! The original ones are rare worth a fortune now! LOL. My grandparents had one still when I was very young and I think my brother ended up with it. The one Christmas I do recall more often is the year we had a real tree. The Smell of it and of course all the needles. It being to big to fit and cutting off the bottom part to shorten it. Funny how that's the one I remember more then any other

Dakota Banks said...

A friend of mine had the tabletop version of the color wheel tree. What I remember about it is that the wheel must have been sized for the full tree, because it cast the changing colors on a big area of the wall behind the tree. We kids would make shadow animals on the multi-colored wall. I came across one of these trees this week in of all places a Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. I have both of your books, Merrie, so leave me out of the giveaway.

Bonnie said...

We also had one of those silver Christmas trees with the spinning light wheel. The worst part about it was you had to wear gloves to put it up so you wouldn't cut your fingers.
Thanks for the memories
I also have both of your books

Helen Lowe said...

Merrie, I have the green tinsel-ly version of your silver tree, but no spinning light wheel, alas! Decorating the tree and putting up the lights, preferably with carols or other Xmas music playing, is one of my favorite parts of the festival.

alainala said...

my gramma had this little (maybe a foot high) ceramic tree she used to sit in front of the window..my aunt (her daughter) made it for her one year.. it had the little bulbs and a lightbulb inside so it glowed all these different colours.. i often wonder what happened to that tree...

unfortunately i didnt have a fancy silver tree.. we did a real one.. decorated awesomely..the memories in the ornaments are amazing!! .. and i remember my dog used to love to bury his face in the tree and rub up against it.. many a time i'd come across him still with an ornament hanging from his tail..

Amy Valentini said...

Yikes Merrie, I am amazed that you had a tree like that ... you're a bit younger than me and I thought they were gone by the mid-70's!
We would have a real tree in the family room and then we had the - oh so, 60's silver tree that looked like pure tinsel with the, oh so, clever rotating wheel just as you described - in the living room where it could be seen through the window changing colors. The wheel would click and groan as it turned but strangely enough we were all fascinated with it and the colors it created like a kaleidoscope on the ceiling and walls. I always thought it looked like it belonged in the future - a very Jetson's like Christmas tree. LOL!!
But I always loved the real tree best. Covered in traditional ornaments, most of which we collected in Germany, and those old big colored lights and tinsel garlands. Then the whole thing was coated in sparkling tinsel so it looked like it was ice covered. When I see a tree like that, it takes me all the way back to when I was a tiny girl and the tree looked huge. [wiping a tear away] Merry Christmas everyone!


SandyG265 said...

Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Sharon said...

Oh my gosh! We had one of those silver trees, with the color wheel, when I was a kid! What memories you have stired up, thanks!
Merry Christmas to you!

Billie Jo said...

WOW A truly wonderful representation of what Christmas is. Thank you for sharing that.

I don't have any great memories of Christmas as a child.

Up until 10 yrs ago when my daughter was born, I was a true "Bah Hum Bug" kind of girl.

But your story brought a tear to my eye and exactly what I have been teaching my children what this holiday is truly about.

Billie Jo

Llehn said...

I don't celebrate Christmas so one of the best Christmas memories I have was when a friend invited me over to her place for the holidays and I saw a real Christmas tree for the first time. It was awesome!


Terri Garey said...

I remember those trees, Merrie! Great post!

CrystalGB said...

We had one of those silver trees too. What memories. :)

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Depends on how much the real ones cost for that year depended on if we got it or set up the artificial. Plus, I secretly think my mom and dad didn't like going to the tree area with me. If you saw the Friends episode about Phoebe and the Living Nightmare of Christmas trees she got because she wanted them to all fulfill their Christmas wish? Yep... that was me. :D
books (dot) things (at) yahoo (dot) com

Carla said...

Thanks for sharing your beautiful memories with us Merrie.

My memories of Christmas was my whole family would go to my grandmothers house and we'd all sleep over and play cards and just hand out and spend time together. My uncle and cousins would make candles and put them all around the house and light them. You never know how much you actually looked forward to it, until you dont have it anymore. Now that my grandmother moved and a lot of family members passed away, we don't have a big get together anymore. Now we have a small one with my parents, sis, son and hubby but it's just as great!
Carla Gallway

Sharon said...

For me Christmas is all about the colored lights. It saddens me to see only white lights on someone's tree or house . The more color the better! That is what I grew up with and what I give my children. I have the house that people ride by and smile and kids ask their parents to go see :)

Sharon said...

don't enter me since I have copies of both your books :)

donnas said...

We had a fake tree forever. And one year I convinced my mom to get a real one. I didnt realize that they had that much sap or left needles around for so long after. But Im pretty sure we found needles still the next year from the tree before.

bacchus76 at myself dot com

Anonymous said...

My grandma always decorated a Christmas tree for me when she's still alive. Now she passed away, but i still treasure the memory of the Christmas tree and the Christmas tree we decorate together:). Happy christmas everyOne. Aretha zhen, Aretha_zhen@yahoo.com

Michelle Bledsoe said...

My favorite memory comes from my childhood. My mother had bought a dining room set that had wheels on the chairs( I don't know why). She put the Christmas tree up in the dining room that year. Needless to say my brother rolled into the tree several times with a chair knocking the tree over. I think the final count was 4....LOL
My mother was so upset.Finally she just rigged the tree so that it wouldn't fall.

koonie2888 at yahoo dot com

Jacqui R said...

I love how xmas is all about memories when I was little we had one of the green tinsel ones, then we moved on to real when we moved to the country.

ticklebear2 at yahoo dot com

Heather said...

My favorite christmas memorie has to be when my twin and was six and we got a tea set. We had my Dad pretending to drink tea with us. If u ever seen my Dad you wouldnt think he be the type to have tea parties with his girls, but he was and is the best man in my life. :)

Brenda Hyde said...

Don't enter me because I have your books:)

That was such a cool post, Merrie. Our Christmas tree is probably pretty homely to some people, but it has ornaments on it from my first year out of college--which was...ahem...awhile ago. I love it so much though because I can sit and look at the ornaments--each with their own story.

Merry Christmas!

Merrie Destefano said...

Wow. I've REALLY enjoyed reading all of your comments! You've all brought back a lot of Christmas memories for me too--like the ceramic tree with lights that my mom had for years. And I can't believe how many of you had those crazy aluminum Christmas trees! Yay for colorful Christmas memories!

I will announce the winner in a few moments on the blog. Thank you all for sharing your memories with me. I enjoyed reading every one. And I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas or Chanuka! May all of you holidays be bright and blessed and filled with moments spent with those you love. =)