Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore. At least not like they did before.
City avenues once dressed for the holiday season.
From one streetlight to another across a busy street, a necklace of colored tinsel and lights would bristle and jingle in the winds of December that rattled them.
Well, some businesses do put up trees. Unfortunately, they’re so rare, I usually do a double take when I see one. Halt in my tracks just to gawk.
I haven’t ruled out how nostalgia is a real thing for me. Christmas trees stir childhood memories with a touch of joy. Since Christmas ornaments only witness daylight once a year, the memories they keep, the stories they tell, remain fresh and raw for what feels like eternity.
A tree is a universal beacon of warmth and hospitality.
Home life in my youth was turbulent. There were consistent, life-shattering surprises. Security was not on the reality list. However, there were a few things in my life back then I could always depend and one was the variety of trees proudly showcased in business plate-glass and urban apartment windows that made up a tiny happy segment of my world.
I became an observer. A Christmas tree aficionado.
Trees tall and short, ragged and rich. All proud in display.
Ornaments adorned real pine, plastic. Even aluminum where the tips stealth-sliced your fingers. The blood left on them seemed to circulate and dance from a light, a color wheel actually, that appeared to sit and look up in awe at the sweeping shine it partnered to create.
Shiny baubles seemingly proud to reflect and bend colored twinkles.
Stories behind these trees and their artifacts were all too real. You see, those trees, along with the stuff that strained branches, represented a shiny bright in time, now passed (past).
Some memories joyous, some sad. Happy sad. Mellow sad. Bittersweet sad.
A forever marriage that didn’t survive the trip, a grandparent long dead yet fondly represented, a son never to return from some shit war, an ended relationship marked by a forever ornament that testified to a love date-stamped on a Hallmark artifact.
You see, Christmas trees are a yuletide 23 & Me.
Wandering excited through the west side of Avenue U, a lower-middle class strip, hodge-podge of small business and family-run establishments in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, NY on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a fond memory of childhood.
When I think about the 4-city-block walk to the avenue, my eyes would dart frantically from one house and apartment window to the next, searching for a featured tree.
Every window framed a story. Testaments to love, tradition and household stability. I mean what could go wrong when you had a Christmas tree in the house?
In my imagination, these sentinels would guard against bad things. String lights scared away the darkness; ornaments full of plastic and glass preserved love so strong, evil spirits wouldn’t dare to trespass.
So, as I walked in focused lockstep, moved forward fast to Taverna’s Department Store, in anticipation of a cordoned Christmas fantasy land at the back of the store.
Along the way the trees. So. Many. Trees.
On the corner of West 2nd Street and the avenue, stood Sal Manna’s Shoes. During the year I hated that place. My mother would drag me in to purchase Easter shoes every year.
The entire ritual of sitting in a row of seats, having my foot placed in a metal vice to determine size, trying on stiff patented leather shoes and Sal pressing down diligently on a big toe to figure out the answer to the mystical question nobody ever could answer – “how long before he outgrows these Buster Brown torture devices?” was never a happy time.
However, Sal had one of the finest trees in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times I could walk into his establishment withhold a feeling of foreboding and fear for my sole.
“Mr. Manna, what a great tree.”
“Thank you!” Big smile.
I’d walk up to it and gently handle the ornaments. I expected to him to scream at me “DON’T TOUCH!” but he never did.
He walked to me and started to tell me the story behind the tree. I can’t remember it all but from what I recall it was the first tree he bought for his store years back as finally things were going well (thanks to all the Italian moms who believed Jesus wouldn’t resurrect unless their kids had new shoes).
He was proud of what the tree represented for him and his family – prosperity, security.
Never forget the stories behind your tree. Those stories represent who you are; they stir a feeling you felt long ago. Old ornaments breathe new life into the good things from your past that are forgotten the rest of the year.
Your tree is alive all year. Even when stored away, even when you skip years of extracting it from a cardboard tomb, memories never die. Nor should they. They are you.
Who you were, who you are, who you always will be.
Maybe what’s wrong with society is we don’t erect enough trees. Not enough trees, not enough memories, All selfie, no story. No tree in the heart, no element of humanity.
The trees are dying every day.
So what’s your Christmas tree story?
Can you remember it today?
Can you keep it tucked away and put it up when you need to feel love, warmth and security?
Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore. At least not like they did once a long time ago.
Perhaps there’s a good reason.
Or maybe we’ve all just lost yet another ritual that brought us together.
Can you feel the joy again?
In this moment like a last moment?
Can the sad be cathartic?
Try it and see.
I bet it could be magical again because those trees in your mind forever shine.