Christmas Tree Shimmer

By Caryl Clem

Communities across America kick off the Christmas Holidays with Tree Lighting ceremonies. This tradition was almost short circuited. A pastor lit a Christmas tree in the late 1890’s in a small town in Pennsylvania. The tree was torn down by townspeople who feared evil spirits had possessed the tree. First, Boston held a tree lighting ceremony on December 24, 1912. Chicago was a leader in spreading the idea of Christmas festivals starting with the grandeur of a giant shimmering tree. Mayor of Chicago, Carter H. Harrison, Jr. held the first official Chicago Tree Lighting in 1913 in Grant Park. Attended by 100,000 enthusiasts, the festival was planned by the President of the Art Institute, Charles L. Hutchinson according to Glessner House website.  The first President, Grover Cleveland, had an electric tree in the Oval Room for his granddaughters.  Ten years after the grand Chicago affair, President Cleveland presented a 3,000 bulb tree in the Ellipse on Christmas Eve. The magic of illuminated trees overcame the original mistrust of using electricity.  New York City in Rockefeller Center celebrated their first tree lighting ceremony in 1933.

Edison’s business partner, Edward H. Johnson invented the first string of white, red, and green bulbs in 1892 which he proudly displayed on his tree in a parlor window overlooking Manhattan in New York City. The first lit Christmas tree emerged. Johnson resourcefully hired a reported to take pictures. Only the rich could afford to hire a wireman (labor $1,000) to install a string of bulbs ( $300-$350 each).  General Electric was offering bulb strings for sale in 1903. The prices dropped after World War II, increasing the popularity of Christmas lights.

Every child hears stories of Christmas Magic. I was convinced these stories must be true after one glance at “bubble lights” on our family Christmas tree. I could sit and stare mesmerized by the bubbling glow amidst the popcorn strings, dangling cookies and bright tinsel.  After the introduction of “BUBBLE lites” by the NOMA Electric Corporation in 1946, competitors produced similar lights with the names Kristal Snow and Sparkling Bubble Lamp. The idea for bubbling inside a light was inspired by 2 popular selling items from the Montgomery Ward’s store. An accountant, George Otis combined the traveling light action in an illuminated Juke box with the shape of a Glow Light Candle. He filed a patent in 1935 that he later sold to NOMA. He was hired as a designer who played an active in improving lights in the years to come. The founder of Ward’s was a Chicagoan,  Aaron Montgomery Ward starting his business  in 1871 with the idea to sell to rural farmers the goods too far away for them to normally purchase. By 1923, the business had expanded to 244 stores in various states.

By the light of a shimmering tree, feel inspired by this year’s holiday magic!

The Good Old Days: Christmas Trees

During my childhood, it was the real Christmas tree that delighted my father every year. It was not Italian lights but bulbs on heavy cord that he would switch out if two colors of the same were located next to each other. It was the time of bubble lights and tinsel hung one strand at a time. Aluminum silver trees were popular too…the only fake trees I knew. A neighbor had a beautiful silver creation with identical ornaments. Fully aluminum trees were made commercially available in the mid-1950s. Of course, no aluminum tree was complete without a rotating color wheel.

It was not until early pre teen years that green fake trees or flocked trees with Italian lights and garland instead of tinsel became the rage. But through the decades, it was always about the Christmas tree even many years after my Dad passed away. You had to put everything on the tree in perfect time and space..I still do… choosing the best ornaments and bows for vacant spots. Through the years, fake trees just kept getting better and better.

We had a green fake tree but it finally fell apart and for the last five years, we have been buying real trees. Though my father loved colored lights, my family today enjoys many white Italian lights throughout with new and vintage ornaments of a different time. Though we still switch up bows each year and rather than garland, elegant ribbon around the tree.

Most of the fake trees today come in a wide variety of heights, so you can make sure you get the right fit for your home. Trees now our pre-lit and many experts don’t recommend that because eventually those lights will have to be replaced. Today’s artificial trees come in an amazing variety of styles, from flocked and colored trees in such outlandish colors as black, pink, and red, to upside down trees.

And the Rainbow tree is the new trend for 2019. The rainbow tree isn’t just for the holiday season. Some teachers have been spotted using them to decorate their classrooms for back to school, since the colors look like a crayon box. Not for me….thank you!

And when Christmas trees were Christmas trees, before my time, it was when entire families got together on Christmas Eve to decorate the big tree with ornaments, candy, popcorn, fruit and tiny candles.

Home for the holidays

By CARYL CLEM:

Festive holiday surround sound

Familiar refrains, bells and chimes

Baby, its cold outside, travel back to past times

Looking forward to being snowbound

Visiting with friends and family, staying warm.

Masterpiece art forms, radiant ornaments

Reflecting light and past traditions

Packages waiting for childlike astonishment

Glistening stars and snow, sparkling companions

Adorn the skies, trees, translucent accents.

Dine and enjoy once a year treats

Symbols of heritage and past sweets

Made with love and secret ingredients

While baking, unforgettable scents

Blend treasured old memories with new ones

Tell stories that tickle everyone’s funny bones.

Rejoice in the love that is shared

Stand united promoting everyone’s welfare.

Hold on to the holiday cheer through the New Year.

Decades of holiday decorations

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the early 1960’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same.  The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street.  The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today.

After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton.

And then during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Christmas became more involved with my own little ones and the art of decorating traveled outdoors. I also worked for Christmas Around the World part-time and still have the manger scene today. Now, it wasn’t about just the Christmas tree, though we did have a perfect cathedral ceiling foyer to show off our large green, fake tree. It was about the entire house even changing out the art work to celebrate the holiday. It was about stringing lights to frame the garage and wrapping the garage with ribbon.

And the new millennium came and it was still about Christmas trees, though now we had switched to white lights and lace lights trimmed the porch and frame.  The fake tree finally fell apart and still in the same house with the cathedral ceiling all these years, we are back to a real tree from Home Depot and unfortunately, not quite as large. Though the indoor decorations have remained, the outdoor lights have broken, wreaths have withered, faded, a wooden replica of Rudolph has lost its leg and Santa flying his sleigh with his plastic reindeer have seen much better days.

As for this year specifically, I have had help, we have scaled back as far as outdoor decorations though the weather in Chicago has been unseasonably warm.  A deck decorated in lights from last year still works and flower pots from summer are left in their spots filled now with fake poinsettia leaves and maybe other items from the dollar store.  An easy fix.

It is a little sad for me as I leave for work everyday and think …..hmmm….maybe today when I come home, I will add a few more decorations outside. Though I haven’t yet.

But when I do leave in the morning, it is strange that the sign of hope by my driveway seems to be especially illuminated with light from the sun, sky or the spirit world. Every morning it gives off an unusual brilliance….a special message.

Many friends and family have passed away through the decades, and maybe this is there way of telling me that it doesn’t matter what kind of costly decorations we have to celebrate the holiday season, as long as we share the sign of hope with others, there is nothing else that is more vibrant….more important! There is always hope if we truly believe.

Holidays in Chicago: Lighting the Tree

In December 1956, Chicago’s Christmas tree was in fact one large tree that had been created from many smaller trees. The tree was 70 feet tall, decorated with about 4,400 lights and more than 2,000 ornaments, and was located in the Grant Park tree platform at Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue. The Tree Lighting Ceremony was eventually  moved to Civic Center Plaza, known today as Daley Plaza, in December 1966.

That was where I remembered the beauty of the tree.I was shocked that the tree was so tall because there was more than one tree bundled together. Each year I kept looking up trying to figure out how this all worked and the time it must have taken. I remember going to see the tree with many waiting regardless of the weather. I remember that first gasp we all made together as the lights came on. Over a 100 year tradition that we celebrated and eventually the tree lighting came in tandem with the magical Christmaskindlemart.

Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree was lit in 1913 on Christmas Eve by Mayor Carter H. Harrison in Grant Park. The tree was a 35-foot Douglas Spruce placed on 40-foot poles and studded with smaller trees to give the appearance of a much larger tree. It was decorated with 600 multi-colored lights and topped with the Star of Bethlehem according to the City of Chicago.org.

The first Christmas tree was a gift of an associate of Captain Herman Scheunemann and was lit in his honor. He was the captain of the Rouse Simmons, known as the “Christmas Tree Ship.” The ship was lost in a storm in Lake Michigan on November 23, 1912.

In the 1990s, the cost of constructing the tree with individual trees was astronomical  So  the city asked for donations of single, massive trees.  In 2008 one family actually donated a 70 foot tree.

Enjoy this holiday tradition, a glittering tree set among Chicago’s sparkling skyline and the iconic art of Millennium Park. The City of Chicago is proud to present the 104th Anniversary of the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Friday, November 17. Chicago’s 104th Christmas Tree was donated by Darlene Dorfler of Grayslake, Illinois. The 62-foot Norway Spruce was selected out of 71 submissions received by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The ceremony will be emceed by WGN TV’s Demetrius Ivory and Erin Ivory along with a special appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Admission to the Tree Lighting Ceremony and all other holiday activities in Millennium Park is free.

The Christmas Tree will remain up until Saturday, January 6, 2018.

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