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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Country Christmas Tree Memories

Monday, November 28, 2016

Country Christmas Tree Memories 

What one thing symbolizes Christmas in your house? Something that is always part of your Christmas celebration? Beginning with your earliest memories in childhood, what one thing has always been part of every Christmas in every house you have ever lived in? What is that one item that must be included before your house is truly ready to celebrate Christmas?   

For me, the answer is.... 

a Christmas tree. 

This fall, Carole of Garden Up Green asked some of us who live in the country to share something from our homes that reflects a country Christmas. Perhaps a recipe, a decorative display, something passed onto to us, or even what life in the country means to us. Whatever we selected should reflect a memory with sincere heart because country living is like no other, and at Christmas, country living is even better. 

I couldn't agree with her more. 

As I read her invitation to take part in this special Christmas blog tour, my mind flashed back to my childhood and how we celebrated Christmas in the Alabama countryside. A celebration filled with

homemade goodness, love, and family... 

foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama 
My earliest memories of Christmas are centered around a Country Christmas Tree. As a child growing up in rural Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, our Christmas trees were home grown cedar trees, often cut from the right-of-way ditch fence line along side a gravel or black-topped narrow country road.  

Early each December, my head was riveted to the right, looking out the window of the back seat of our car, searching for the PERFECT shaped cedar tree to cut as our Christmas tree. 

I self-appointed myself as the official tree spotter. My dad, while driving, would glance over at every tree I pointed out as a candidate and give a short assessment. 

"Too tall." "Lopsided." "Ummm, maybe." "On private property." 

Undaunted, I continued on each car trip to point out every possibility along the ditches and in pastures. 

Then one Saturday about a week before Christmas, we would go to cut THE perfect cedar tree as our Christmas tree. 

Cedar trees grow everywhere in north Alabama and scrub cedar trees are not worth much. Cedars cannot be used for firewood due to the creosote that clogs chimneys and causes fires in chimneys when burned. The scrub trees are too short for the sawmills to create boards. 

No, cedar trees are not worth much except as country Christmas trees. All of my family... aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, extended family members... had cedar trees as Christmas trees when I was growing up. All of my school classmates' families also had cedar Christmas trees. 

Now, years later, I realize my family was poor, very poor in worldly goods. However, we were no more poorer or richer than our neighbors. My grandfather was a cotton share cropper who also worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority (signed into law in 1933) as an iron worker and helped build the dams along the Tennessee River. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dams created electricity for poor rural farmers. Prior to TVA only about 10% of rural farmers in that area had electricity compared to 90% of urban dwellers. 

My grandmother cared for their six children and helped my grandfather grow cotton and a large vegetable garden. Both of them had dropped out of school by the fifth grade in order to work in cotton fields to help their families. Their early married life was during the depression era when everyone was poor. My mother was the oldest of my grandparents' six children, and I was the first-born grandchild, arriving shortly after the end of World War II.  

Yet, we were rich. 

Each year I eagerly looked forward to Christmas, to cutting our chosen cedar tree, and to decorating it. My earliest of all memories were the trees at my grandparents' house. Homemade ornaments decorated the tree. My grandmother would help my youngest uncle and me string home-grown popcorn into garlands. 

We cut up old newspapers and used a homemade flour paste as glue to make links for a newspaper chain garland. We made a star for the top from newspaper. My grandmother was the first DIYer I ever knew. But, all our neighbors were also DIY when it came to Christmas decorations. There were no lights or other ornaments, but I loved those country Christmas trees.   

It wasn't Christmas until the tree was put up. Then, on Christmas Eve, there would be wrapped presents under the tree. 

I don't remember feeling poor. 

I remember feeling loved. 

And, excited about Santa Claus and Christmas. 

Christmas has always been a special time to me. Even as an adult, school vacations at Christmas allowed traveling to family for several days, finding just the right gift for each person, cooking traditional favorite recipes, and finding the perfect live tree to decorate. 

I always want a live tree as our main Christmas tree. My favorites now are the storybook Noble fir trees with their graceful outstretched limbs, with a strong center top to hold a special angel, and filled with ornaments collected over the years. 

Now we find our trees in lots, not along side the road, and I spend hours on Christmas tree lots, twirling trees to check their shapes, and assessing them much like my dad did so many years ago.

"Too tall." "Lopsided." "Gaps in the middle." "Ummm, maybe." Until I find the perfect tree. 

Scrub cedar trees grow on our two-acre plot outside any city limits in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Over the years I've cut some of the smaller trees to use as secondary Christmas trees, always remembering the cedar country Christmas trees of my childhood. 

To keep the spirit of a country Christmas, the cedar country Christmas tree on our covered porch this year came from our yard. The tree has more decorations than my childhood cedar trees. This tree's decorations are all homemade or natural... paper snowflakes, cotton bolls, a grapevine garland, and a paper angel on top. 

The cotton bolls came from a cotton farm near my brother's house in Alabama. When my sister and I visited my brother in October I planned to cut some cotton from a farmer my brother and sister-in-law knew personally. However, all of that farmer's cotton had already been harvested by the time we arrived, collected just a day before.  

Southern hospitality comes in all kinds of forms. 

Cotton field after cotton field was stripped bare all over the area, and the remaining sticks/stalks were flattened on the ground by the mechanical cotton harvesters. There was only one cotton field we could see from the highway that still had cotton standing. My sister stopped one day and knocked on the door of the closest house to the field. Lying on a rocker on the front porch were a pair of gloves and some snippers. The lady of the house told my sister, "Yes, please cut all the cotton you want. I've just been cutting some myself today and plan to cut more later this afternoon." She smiled and pointed to the gloves and snippers on the rocking chair as she told her, "When you're finished, just return the gloves and snippers to the rocking chair."  

Alabama generosity. Freely share what you have with perfect strangers.... and provide the gloves and snippers to them to gather your gift. 

I made each of the paper snowflakes and the paper angel that tops the tree, remembering my grandmother as I worked. The wild grapevines were pulled... and tugged... and jerked..., and finally torn free from the large oak trees between my yard and the road. 

I was amazed when I moved to Washington, D.C. after graduating from college and discovered that people BOUGHT Christmas trees at Christmas tree lots. 

And there wasn't a single cedar tree on the lot. 


Ready for more country Christmas memories? Visit three other blogs of some of my country blogging friends for Christmas inspiration unique to each of them. And share your own Christmas memories at Monday Social's linking party going on right now on my blog at Botanic Bleu Monday Social #12

Christmas is a time for remembering and for sharing heart-felt memories....  

Jane @ Grit Antiques 
Carole @ Garden Up Green 
Jemma @ At Home With Jemma 
Judith @ Botanic Bleu  

Please join me at these inspiring places for more joy of living. 

Dishing It and Digging It @ Rustic and Refined