The current post over at Mad Genius Club talks about the trials and tribulations of the holiday season, especially if one has cats that like to climb Christmas trees. Having spent the evening after filling the stockings for the children cuddled up with Rhys, marvelling that somehow, we’d managed to put together a Christmas for the kiddlywinks, and reminiscing as we watched the tree lights sparkle, I find myself reminiscing again – this time about the first time we had a proper Christmas tree. As a child in the Philippines, the tree I remembered having was made out of little pine cones shaped into a Christmas tree that came from Baguio. It wasn’t big and we could put it on top of the TV.
The first Christmas we had in East Berlin, I bought the tree, and my classmate and I carried it home. My father had plans of buying a plastic tree but I would have none of it! We were in Germany and we could finally have a proper Tanenbaum! But no, my father reasoned that it seemed cruel to get a cut tree. This made no sense to me as the tree was grown and cut for that purpose, and since it was cut already, it was a waste not to use it for the reason why it was cut down.
I was telling my friend about this while walking home the 2 or more kilometers home from school. She was quite baffled at the thought of a plastic tree, but reasoned that it was too hot where I came from for tanenbaumen, when we saw someone selling trees out of a truck in a parking lot. My friend suggested buying one. I made up my mind right there to buy a tree if I could afford one with my pocket money. I had enough money for a 2 meter tall tree, which was the smallest one available.
Everyone else buying trees, I remember, was a grown up. The sight of two children, one German and the other a tiny little auslanderin, very seriously picking out which tree to buy, seemed to be a source of amusement. We didn’t mind them; this was, to our minds, something important!
Nevertheless, we picked out a tree, and paid the five marks for it. The man selling it asked if we lived nearby. No, we replied, we lived at (street), and he remarked at how far we had to go. Yet these two little girls lifted the tree onto their shoulders, and trudged off, with those darned heavy leather schoolbags on our shoulders digging in through our anoraks. I remember people pausing to watch us go by, because we looked like a horizontal tree that had sprouted legs.
It was afternoon, but the sky was already pitch dark, and snowflakes, big fat clumps of white, drifted out of the darkness and into the street lights we followed to our apartment building. The day was very cold, but carrying the tree, which was heavier than either of us had anticipated, kept us warm, and the tree itself shielded us from quite a bit of wind chill.
My mother was quite shocked to find out that we had walked the whole way; we said the tree wouldn’t have fit through the bus’ door. My brothers were simply excited that we had a tree!
My friend showed us how to have the tree set up. We went back down with a pail and filled it with sand from the little playground next to the apartment building, and we planted the tree into the bucket of sand and stood it to one side of the living room, next to the windows.
Afterward my mother plied us with drinks of hot chocolate and cookies bought from the West side of Berlin. She made up a thank you gift of food and treats and gave them to my friend when it was time for her to go home.
My father was surprised by the tree when he got home, and shocked to find out how we’d gotten it there. Seeing as I’d made such an effort, he decided that we go out and buy decorations, so we drove out to the West side and came home with lots of decorations and decorated the tree that same night. It looked quite magical to us, that first proper tanenbaum and my father conceded that I’d been right to push for a real tree. In the years we stayed in Germany, every Christmas we got a proper, real Tanenbaum. We went with the plastic trees later on, but by then we were all quite a bit older, and Christmas was less about the tree and the presents and more about the company, the religious connotations, the social gatherings and the food.