Aunt Pauline’s Stylish Christmas Tree

“Icicles are what make the tree,”

said Aunt Pauline as she hung another long strand of tinsel on the fir tree in her living room. I was eight years old, and in a scene that still comes to my mind every year when I open my boxes of glass ornaments to decorate my Christmas tree.

My aunt had flair starting with her bright red hair that was always perfectly styled. “When you have red hair, you can never let it go. It’s the first thing people will see.”
She never did anything ordinary. At Easter time, no plain blue, pink, and yellow Easter eggs for her! In her hands, the same PAAS dyes the rest of us used to make plain one-color eggs, turned out eggs that were stripped, speckled, and polka-dotted. But they were only preludes to her annual masterpiece, her Christmas tree.

The year I was finally big enough to help her decorate the tree, I jumped out of bed, gulped breakfast, and skipped to her house. Her living room was filled with the aroma of the balsam fir that stood almost to the ceiling, and was surrounded by boxes of colored ornaments. She let me unwrap and hang the glass balls, making sure I mixed the colors and spaced them for best effect. With the balls of color hung on the branches, it was beautiful.
“Now we’re ready for the most important part,” she said, and brought out an old Look Magazine. There, between its pages, were long silver strands of tinsel, arranged neatly, just a few to a page.
I grabbed a handful, but she held my arm. “No, not like that.” She took a few strands and showed me how to hang them. “You have to put them on one or two at a time so you fill all the branches. Some people throw them on, in clumps. That’s not good. Hang them long and even.”

As I hung the precious strands, just a few at a time, I wondered, “Why are they in a magazine? Mama buys our icicles in a box.”
“To save them, of course. If you’re careful, you can use the same icicles year after year – and icicles just make the tree. My tree was always beautiful, even during the war when you couldn’t buy icicles. Aluminum was needed for ships. So, most people’s trees were plain. But mine was so pretty people driving by my house would stop to look at it through the window.”

She plugged in the lights, and we stood back, looked at the tree. She said again,

“Icicles just make a tree.”

After the holidays, Aunt Pauline painstakingly took down the tinsel and placed it back into the Look Magazine, recycling it. Today we talk about recycling as though it’s a brand new idea. In our neighborhood, recycling happened because people didn’t have money to waste by throwing out perfectly good things to buy new. Outgrown dresses were cut down to fit the younger children or cut up to make quilts (my junior high school wardrobe came from my pretty cousin Mary Gayle’s closet). Broken things were fixed – televisions, toasters, radios, and frying pans. And Christmas decorations were passed down the generations, including the icicles because they “just make a tree!”

December 18, 2018