Skip to content

COLUMN: But where's the Christmas tree?

With deep Newfoundland roots, editor Raymond Bowe has carried on the family tradition when it comes to decorating the Christmas tree, and that means the more ornaments, the better

Call it Christmas camouflage. There is a tree under there. 

When we decorate the main Christmas tree at our house, we take it to the max. Every ornament and bauble, strand of tinsel, string of lights (preferably the colourful and blinking kind) has a home and we must find it. No areas can be spared. 

I have come to learn that this must be some sort of unspoken family tradition, hearkening back to our Newfoundland roots, because my dad says their tree growing up was similar, just a mass of Christmas decorations of all sorts heaped onto the tree in the front room. In fact, once the tree couldn't take any more, the decorations began spilling further out into the room — hanging from the ceiling and the walls. 

Some people have a plan going in when it comes to the tree, but our mission is simply to leave no space bare. 

Growing up, you tend to think things around you are normal, but then as you age, you begin to realize those are traditions. 

My wife and I have completely different ideas when it comes to decorating the Christmas tree. She comes from an interior design background, whereas I think it's my job to adorn the tree with every single trinket I can find. There are no best-laid plans, just a shotgun-esque spray of colour, sparkle and lights. 

Now that we have kids, the boys, aged 10 and 14, definitely lean my way and want to find the perfect spot for every single ornament. By the end of the decorating session, nary a piece of tree or needle can be spotted from underneath. In my books, that means a job well done. 

Whereas, my wife has a smaller tree she also places near the front door of our home (apparently called a 'pencil tree' for the uninitiated), and it likes like something out of a magazine. Less gaudy and excessive, perhaps, but where's the fun in that? We have an ongoing gag where she tries to hide the most garish ornaments, but the boys and I always find them and place them in the most prominent of spots on the tree for good measure. 

A pristine Christmas tree was never the case in our house growing up. Even decades later, my parents still use many of the decorations from our childhood on their tree. Pre-kindergarten in some cases. I can remember making homemade ornaments with my mom around age five or six, where we took old, clear pill bottles, colourful Crayon shavings and then melted the concoction in the oven to create some sort of freaky, mind-bending glob. Must have been an '80s thing. 

Flash forward a few decades and our Christmas tree today carries many homemade projects from our kids. And we wouldn't have it any other way. 

While speaking to my dad the other night for some background for this column about his own childhood in Newfoundland, he relayed a few yarns about what he remembers about Christmas more than 70 years in a village not far from St. John's. He comes from a Catholic family of 13 kids. That's right, a healthy brood to say the least. Granted, they weren't all living under the same roof at the same time, but my dad was on the younger end of the family lineage. 

At around age 10 or so, he and his slightly older brother used to help their father cut down spruce trees at the back of their property, hauling them out of the woods — one under each arm, he claims — to the road in front of their house where they would sell them for 50 cents apiece. These would be anywhere from six- to 10-footers. 

Despite coming up the hard way, it sounds like Christmas was still a joyous time of year for him. They would get an orange in their stocking and maybe an egg on their breakfast plate, not to mention those unwrapped hard candies where the threads would stick, but kids would still eat them because that's what kids do. He can also remember mummers coming around the house — kind of a combination of Halloween and Christmas — but maybe that's a column for another day. 

Their small, white, two-bedroom home with pink trim didn't even have electricity in the earliest days he can recall. So no blinking lights on the tree, but he says the Christmas tree was festooned with cards, balloons, homemade decorations, and colourful tinsel (or "angel hair" as he called it) that they saved and used year after year. Times were tough, to say the least, but the tree was always covered top to bottom. 

The Bowes were never at a loss to find something bright, gaudy, showy and perhaps even tasteless to adorn the tree. And in the end, to my mind that's half the fun! And I have seen decades' worth of pictures to prove it — kind of like a Christmas explosion. 

So hopefully you had a chance to pour a glass of eggnog, turn up the Christmas music and had a good time decorating the tree, because it's certainly a lot more fun than taking it all down again. 

Merry Christmas, everyone! 

Raymond Bowe is the editor at BarrieToday.