December 25, 2014 by Jean
Christmas almost didn’t happen for me this year. Between the hassles of living with the seemingly endless construction at my house and the stresses of my friend’s illness, I had trouble finding time, energy or spirit for the holidays. A week before Christmas, I had done nothing about the holiday except the gift calendars that I create for family and friends each year.
Last Saturday, I finally got myself in gear. I went to a local garden gift shop to find some special gifts and stopped on my way home at the apple orchard near my house where I normally buy my Christmas tree. But I was so late that the trees had already sold out and I went home empty handed. At this point, I was going through the motions but still wasn’t feeling the holiday spirit. And when a quick internet search showed that other Christmas tree vendors nearby were also sold out, I considered just forgetting about the whole thing for this year. But then my stubbornness kicked in; I was not going to let my contractor be the Grinch Who Stole Christmas! I would go out into the woods behind my house and find a suitable candidate for the role of Christmas tree.
I should explain that I’ve never been one of those people who has to have the perfect Christmas tree. For me, the tree is mostly a backdrop for much-loved ornaments. Still, using a tree from the woods surrounding my house presents some challenges. The best Christmas trees in Maine are fir trees, especially the wonderfully fragrant balsam firs, but those don’t grow in my woods. What I have are white pines and eastern hemlocks. These self-sow readily, and I always have saplings that have sown themselves in inconvenient places, so finding one of the right size to cut down isn’t a problem. But these trees are fast-growing, which means the ones that are the right height for the house are youngsters with very small diameter trunks and wispy branches. The other problem is that, unlike trees that grow out in the sun on Christmas tree farms, trees that grow in the woods don’t grow symmetrically; instead, they have long luxurious branches reaching out toward the sun and much less growth on the shady side.
I spent about 30 minutes walking around the woods looking for the right tree to cut for the house. The one I chose, an eastern hemlock, was definitely a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, with one flat side (which could go against the wall), sparse growth at the top, lots of space between branches (more space for hanging ornaments 🙂 ), and some branches too slender to support the weight of most ornaments. Since the trunk of the tree was only about 2” in diameter, I had to wrap wood shims around it with duct tape in order to make it thick enough to stand up in my Christmas tree stand. But committing myself to this unprepossessing tree was just what I needed to jump-start my Christmas spirit.
The next day, on the way to visit my sick friend, I spent an hour or so shopping for gifts at two of my favorite stores (Longfellow Books and Stonewall Kitchen) in the Portland, Maine Old Port. On Christmas Eve, after doing some advance cooking and baking for Christmas dinner, I curled up with a mug of tea to watch the 1951 film of Dickens’ Christmas Carol (the one with Alistair Sim as Scrooge). Today, I fixed and enjoyed Christmas dinner with a farm-fresh local turkey and all the yummy side dishes. During the next week or so, I’ll have several holiday gatherings with family and friends.
I may have been late getting my Christmas spirit moving this year, but it arrived just in time for me to enjoy a happy holiday.