Wyoming Stories: Trimming the Christmas tree

Dec 20, 2013

The Belden Christmas tree in 2012.
The Belden Christmas tree in 2012.
Credit Willow Belden

This holiday season, the Wyoming Public Radio news team is sharing stories about  memories and traditions that stand out to them. In this piece, reporter Willow Belden tells us about her family's tradition of trimming the Christmas tree.

It’s the week before Christmas. Carols are playing, boxes of ornaments are strewn around the house waiting to be unpacked, and I stand in the living room, holding a pair of garden shears and scrutinizing the tree.

My uncle grasps a branch and holds it to the side. “How would it look if we got rid of this one?” he asks.

“Good,” I reply.

We lop off the limb and move on to the next branch.

My uncle and I are in charge of trimming the tree in our family. And for us, trimming the tree actually means trimming the tree: by the time we’re done, only about half the branches remain.

You have to understand that my family is from New York City. So the trees we get are not what you’d find in, say, a national forest in Wyoming. They come from tree farms, and they’re pruned heavily, which makes them so dense that you can barely distinguish one branch from another.

This is a problem, because we put real candles on the tree. It’s a tradition my grandparents brought from Germany when they moved to the U-S after World War II. Back then, it was easy to buy trees that were sparse enough to accommodate candles. But each year, it seems, the trees are pruned more heavily … and as a result, we’re confronted with an increasingly impenetrable blanket of branches. And so we have to trim. And trim. And trim. And trim.

The process takes hours. We deliberate about each branch. And every so often, there’s a moment of panic when we realize we’ve made a mistake and cut too much. When that happens, we have to wire other limbs together to fill the gap. Sometimes we even glue a branch back into place.

After the surgery is done, I dab some brown paint onto the places where the branches have been cut, so they blend in with the trunk. And then, finally,we begin decorating: red candles, glass balls, a silver star, and tinsel that’s hung one strand at a time, like icicles.

Days later, on Christmas Eve, the family gathers around the tree. We sip mulled wine, turn off all the electric lights in the house, and one by one, we light the candles. The result is magnificent. The entire tree shimmers, as light dances off the tinsel and sparkles on the glass ornaments. The star floats elegantly on top of the tree, reflecting the warm glow of the candles. And we sit together, and sing carols, always ending with “Silent Night.” For us, this is Christmas.

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