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Ready, Willis and Able – Trees change with times (Dec. 16, 2015 issue)

Are you old enough to remember Christmas tree bubble lights popular back in the 1950s? Remember those bright colored, candle-shaped lights with bubbling liquid inside them? Carl Otis developed and patented bubble lights in 1944. They were the new thing when they hit the Christmas scene in the United States back in 1946. Now, seven decades later, it appears that trees decorated with technological communications gadgets are the new thing. Grand Central Station in New York City is sporting a tree decorated with 43 flat-screen televisions ranging from 19 to 52 inches in size. And their screens are all lit up. High-tech fans, who can’t afford that many televisions, are decorating their trees with old cell phones, compact discs, head sets, and even old floppy discs.
Times have certainly changed since fresh cut evergreen and later artificial trees became part of the Christmas tradition in this and other countries. Actually, advances in communication, especially via newspapers and magazines, were responsible for establishing these early traditions. According to Jock Elliott in his book Inventing Christmas, the year that launched the Christmas tree decorating custom was 1848.
That year, the London Illustrated News featured England’s Queen Victoria, her German born husband Prince Albert, and their family standing around their Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. The article also contained information about the presents, the decorations, and when and how the tree was set up. This story and the illustrations captured the imagination of the Queen’s subjects. And guess what? Next year, a lot of English husbands had to either buy or chop down a bunch of Christmas trees.
Then word spread to the United States. In 1850, Godey’s Lady Book took the illustration of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria standing around their perfect Christmas tree and doctored it up. They Americanized it by removing Victoria’s crown and the fancy drapes and gave the husband a mustache. And Godey’s didn’t even have Photo Shop. But their efforts paid off – well depending on how you look at it. That next year American husbands were in the same predicament as the English.
I’m not judging the press. My Christmas decorating has definitely been influenced by television. Back in the 1970s, I was a huge Waltons fans. The Waltons had cedar Christmas trees like my family had when I was a child. So for my first Christmas married to Leo, I talked him into taking me to the farm where he rabbit hunted to get a cedar Christmas tree. He ended up sawing down a truck load of cedars for both our families. The farmer was glad to get rid of them.
A few days ago, I mentioned having a cedar tree this Christmas. Leo’s enthusiasm for this was about on the same level as his enthusiasm for seeing castles in Scotland. So, I suppose we’ll stick with the old artificial tree. But it will not have cell phones on it.