Soliloquizing on Christmas trees, unknown and known

It wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I experienced the delight of having a Christmas tree. People didn’t follow that tradition in India and Burma, and even Australia. At my first USA Christmas in Redlands, Calif., at my grandparents’ little house, up went the tree with a string of crayon-colored bulbs and some simple ornaments. I was transfixed.

From then on, for me, decking a Christmas tree became important. The tree, with all its attendant symbolism as the tree of life, along with enjoying traditional music and sharing good meals, and perhaps a concert or two, became an important aspect of the winter solstice and end-of-the-year holidays.

When I was in seventh grade, we waited for a tree to come home from our school-teacher mom’s classroom once school was out. Our budget was stretched tight, and a “rich parent” had donated the tree for Mom’s fourth-graders to enjoy. We pushed it the long block home from her school in a wheelbarrow, its silver tinsel flapping in the wind, its foot nailed to a wood stand. Never mind that it looked (and felt) a bit dry; it was going to make home look so Christmasy!

When my own children were tots in Southern California, since we weren’t able to cut an actual tree in the snow, we took them to a Christmas tree lot to at least pick their pine. When the choice was finally made, the tree tied to red Ford’s top, the merriment factor definitely increased. One year, they chose a true Charlie Brown, on purpose. It was fun watching them transform it to look beautiful.

The December I moved to Kauai, I soon learned how the people of The Garden Island descend upon those containers that arrive to unload the trees harvested in cooler climes, trees that bring pine scent — as well as a few unwanted critters. There are never enough trees for everyone, so they’re prized. Norfolks are nice, and ironwood branches, potted palms and even mature ti plants can be decked and lit, but the fragrance is lacking.

That piney fragrance is what recently lured me into the garden center of a local department store. Suddenly, seeing dried-out Christmas tree wannabes stacked on their sides in trash bins, I was overcome with sadness. I had strolled happily down the rows of available pines, inhaling while considering if it were prudent to purchase a tree that was destined to morph into mulch material. Here, smack-dab before me, was the end result.

I reached to touch a frizzled branch, thinking of how no person would deck it with lights and ornaments, place a star on the top, no happy children would stare at it in wonderment, no surprises would lie at its feet come Christmas Eve. I pictured it growing on a lovely, green hillside of the Pacific Northwest.

I could almost feel my toes wriggling in my slippers as I thought of the roots spreading out in pine-needle loam, transmitting earth energy to growing tree. (Talk about anthropomorphism!) I pictured it being cut, tossed and trundled to the port where refrigerated containers would haul it over the sea to Kauai.

My eyes wandered over the row of still-green pines, realizing those that didn’t make it onto the sales floor were not as hardy — trashed with no hope of being treasured, even for a brief span. That was the root of my sadness — the idea of unfulfillment, either as a maturing pine or as a decorated symbol of light and everlasting life. Any life.

Here my attention was diverted to two happy boys helping their mom decide on a small green tree. The attendant cut the wires binding it, coaxed the branches outward; the trio nodded approval of its shape; the boys stood guard over it while their mom went to another department to finished her errands.

“That’s a beauty,” I said as I strolled by, and they grinned. I took a look at another tree in the $25 price range — a real Charlie Brown, then turned just as my husband came pushing a cart toward me to see what I was up to.

“I think we’ll cut the Norfolk, if that’s OK,” I said. “I’ve had my chance to breathe in the pine smell.”

This was fine with him. The Norfolk had served us well in its large, black pot for several years, until it needed more space than we could handle. Dee had planted it in the very spot where a small blue spruce that came home some dozen years before at a whopping 12” as a table-top tree had struggled to grow. That one finally gave up just as it reached the five-foot mark, unable to survive last summer’s heat and sun.

As it is, we decided the Norfolk needs another year of growth before the axe falls. I gave in and brought home a small fake tree that puts together in a twinkle — (made in China!). At least the old ornaments we dug out to hang on it are traditional. And the heart glow is real. However, next year the axe, I promise! The real tree will reign, and this one may or may not come out of its box, as an extra.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai over 30 years ago. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live quietly with books, music and birds in Wailua homesteads. The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. Information:


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