Illuminating Another Christmas Tradition – How to Light the Tree & What Tree

The Brown family tree, ca. 1904.  The Browns lived across Dexter Avenue from Denny Park. Father played clarinet in the Pop Wagner concert and marching band.  (courtesy, Bill Greer)
The Brown family tree, ca. 1904. The Browns lived across Dexter Avenue from Denny Park. Father played clarinet in the Pop Wagner concert and marching band. (courtesy, Bill Greer)
Bruce reflecting on this year's choices with the family tree - in Wallingford (a Seattle neighborhood).
Bruce reflecting on this year's choices with the family tree - in Wallingford (a Seattle neighborhood).

About 105 years of Christmas trees divide the two living-room scenes above.  The top Brown Home “set” – Brown was a skilled amateur photographer and almost surely designed his subject for his shot – can be compared to Bruce’s tree above, although in the latter the gifts have not yet been opened to spill their toys and such.  It will be worth your while to double click the Brown living room to examine the surely typical gifts, like a drum for the son (or daughter), an elaborate doll table with tea serving and sumptuous doll bed besides, a carving set for mom (or dad) and much else.  And also note the family photos on the wall, the variety of ornate framing then popular, and the painting of Snoqualmie Falls, upper left.  Hereabouts it was then a popular sign of the sublime.

Next.  When visiting my “just down the block” neighbor Bruce yesterday late afternoon and his family tree I was struck by the surreal qualities of its lights and compliment him on them.   Remembering the Brown set (above) I asked Bruce – known for his wit – to recount whatever decisions may have been involved in purchasing that tree and those lights.  Here is his response.  Enjoy with good will.


Hi Paul-

Sorry I didn’t get this to you last night… I fell asleep while putting my daughter down.  A common problem for me.

First something about the tree.  One of my favorite holiday traditions is the annual series of Christmas tree debates that ensues between my wife and I.   Most families simply have the traditions of procuring their tree, and trimming them in some sort of familial, time honored fashion.  But in my family’s Christmas traditions, there are three pillars that are the foundation for our holidays.  1.  What we did last year, or on any other year in the past, will have no bearing on actions taken this year.  2.  There will be much discussion, aka debate.  3.  And most importantly, I will purchase more, new and different Christmas lights each year.
As for the tree itself, my wife grew up in the South Pacific and as such always had a fake tree.  Please note the use of the word “fake” verses the manipulative term, “artificial” which my wife likes to use.   It was a necessary tradition born from the complete lack of any pine or fir being indigenous to the island where she lived.  Needless to say, my wife regularly advocates for a fake tree, stating unverified environmental benefits and ease of installation.  Of course I, born a Protestant Norwegian, need to remind her, born an Agnostic Swede, that if you don’t work hard and suffer for something, it is not worth doing.   As such, fake trees have less value because they are so easy to “pop up”.
Now because we have yet to settle this little matter and because we must return to the topic each year, the tree itself changes each season.  Do we cut from the forest, do we cut from a farm, do we go to a tree lot and if we go to a lot, which one, benefiting what organization?
In case you are curious, this year is a 7.5 foot Noble Fir from Hunters tree lot in Wedgwood.  No charity benefits from Hunters but they have really nice trees.

Similar, but more robust is the great Christmas tree light debate.  I grew up in a home in which the Christmas tree bore the warm glow of all red lights.  As a child I recall thinking it was like the glow of the fireplace fire illuminating our entire tree.  My wife… My wife… I actually don’t know what type of lights she had on her tree.  I only know that she is of the opinion that all red lights on a tree cast a brothel inspiring, red light district effect.   So the debate that ensues is simple but endless.  I would like to continue the traditions of old with a tree all in red and she…. Would prefer not.
The bi-product of this debate is my annual pilgrimage to the hardware stores looking for some new or better string of lights that I can hang in the hole left in my soul, from where the red lights used to glow.  My garage is a graveyard of old lights from Christmas past, large and small, ceramic and glass.  I have flame tip, berry, and gum drop.  Spanning from all white, to specific sequences to completely random color combinations.
This year I boldly grabbed the latest and greatest, the newest light technology, the L.E.D. (Light Emitting Diode).   They were billed as “jewel” tones that are safer, last 5X as long and use 1/12 the electricity.  They were also 3X more expensive and remind me of the neon colors, so popular in 80s fashion.  Interestingly, I’ve been advised by multiple people they simply have too many of the wrong color.  The problem is that if I were to add the colors that everyone has advised, I could simply buy another string of random bulbs.   So far it has been suggested I simply need, more green, yellow, white, blue, orange and yes of course, red.
Suffice it to say, while Christmas may yet be 4 days away, next years debate has already begun with my wife’s traditional first voile, “I want to talk about a budget for your Christmas tree lights”.  To which my traditional return sortie comes, “Don’t the red lights have an especially nice warm glow?”

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