I had the overinflated sugar plum vision forever: the perfect mid-century tinsel feather tree decorated perfectly with appropriate period ornaments, complemented with one of the vintage ornament wreaths I’ve made myself over the years; this one purchased from a local shopkeeper.
Social media fueled this Jetson-Brady-era picturesque holiday wonderland in my mind, and I spent years collecting the ornaments, finally purchasing my dream tree last year: tabletop, because full size would cost a fortune and I don’t have enough decorations, and after Christmas, because prices were lower. So I had to wait a whole year to put it up.
While I wasn’t willing to be a “day after Halloween” freak, it’s close enough to Thanksgiving, and I needed the background for photos for my candle company, so this week the tree went up. I was surprised when the tree arrived because it only consists of a dowel rod with holes in it, simple three-point traditional-style metal stand, and a bunch of individual tinsel branches. I learned that what seems simple can also be fragile when it comes to vintage holiday décor.
I set up the dowel rod into the stand, placed the branches, and added the ornaments I’d carefully collected for so long. Except I hadn’t thought about lights. The tree was so fragile, I purchased “rice lights” which are like “fairy” lights on a very thin wire strand (with a remote control, far too many intermittent lighting options, and annoyingly a USB plug instead of a normal one, like houses have USB plugs in the wall).
If you’ve never tried to add tiny lights on a thin wire to a fragile tree bedecked with delicate hand-painted century-old Eastern European ornaments on it, I don’t recommend it. The entire tree will simultaneously fall apart and crash down, stopping your breath completely as you search for shattered mercury glass fragments, vintage Santa figurines placed under the tree that belonged to your grandmother, and your shattered nerves.
I decided the treepocalypse was my fault because it’s Christmas Tree 101 not to add lights when the ornaments are already on any tree. I’d wrapped the knottiest thin wire lights that should remain in tiny bowls full of fake driftwood balls at a Pinterest bride wedding and not on my tree around branches that were now loose all over the floor.
I started over. Ornaments (miraculously only two shattered) were put back into boxes; it took about an hour to detangle and wrap the lights around a roll of wrapping paper. I reconstructed the tree. This time the lights would go on first. I was trying to wrap each branch individually with lights, but about halfway through that tree fell again. RIP my nerves. The stream of cuss words that flew from me would’ve brought wholehearted applause from the most seasoned sailors.
I looked out the window at the Chesapeake Bay, ready to gather it all up and pitch it out on behalf of oyster restoration or crab toilet fodder. I didn’t give a shit, I was done. Sign me up for a Home Depot pre-lit fake tree and plastic ornaments.
But then I thought of my Instagram explore page and how much it would haunt me, how long I’d waited for my own little slice of vintage holiday porn; the moment when I’d hear Frank Sinatra singing “how lovely are thy branches” because the tree would be like the one my grandmother or hers had once upon a time.
I wired the spot where the dowel rod met the sketchy stand and carefully put it back together. It took a few hours, but when it was all done and lit, I was so proud of my pretty little vintage Christmas corner in my mid-century house; tinsel, cusswords, and all.