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My Outlook: How lovely are thy branches

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
Shelley Column Pic
More lovely than a tree that dripped with diamonds


I was in high school when my family received news that a man from our church became very ill and was hospitalized in early December. As the days passed, he was doing better but faced a long recovery. Amidst all that was going on, his wife wasn’t sure she’d put up a Christmas tree but her young grandchildren stepped in and said they wanted to help. When they were done, all the ornaments were clustered on one side and nothing was higher than their little arms could reach. It was perfect. Love in action by the three small children who simply wanted to see that grandpa and grandma had a tree for Christmas.

I remember as a child being fascinated by how different the Christmas trees looked at each of my friend's houses. Homemade ornaments on some, store bought on others. Some had garlands, others tinsel. Candy canes loaded on some, not one to be seen on others. Vastly different tree toppers that we each felt was best, be it angels, stars or snowflakes. Some looked professionally decorated; others far more child-friendly. They were all beautiful in a way that seemed to suit so well the homes in which they stood.

The same can be said of places that utilize what’s unique to them to create spectacular trees. At LEGOLAND you can marvel at its 30-foot tree made from almost half a million forest green bricks, or enjoy the work of a team in West Palm Beach who sculpted a 600-ton tree made entirely of sand.

Then there are the showstoppers. Travelers flying into Hong Kong may have seen a 50-foot beauty adorned in 20 million Swarovski gold and silver crystals, while a hotel in Abu Dhabi showcased a 43-foot tree whose branches held 181 pieces of jewelry made from diamonds, gold, pearls, sapphires and emeralds to the tune of about $11 million. Not to be outdone, one of the most expensive trees in the world stood on a luxury hotel property in Spain. It is said the tree "dripped with diamonds"—$15 million worth.

A book by John C. Charyk called “The biggest day of the year” contains the stories of one-room schoolhouses preparing for their annual Christmas concert. It includes the account of a teacher in 1913 who arranged to have a Christmas tree delivered in time for the big day. Since the children had never seen one before, they stood spellbound as it was unpacked, deeply breathing in the refreshing aroma it gave off. Strung popcorn and chains of cranberries were draped carefully across the branches. Tops and bottoms of tin cans were cut into star shapes as ornaments while silver tea foil wrappings became shimmering icicles amongst the branches. I doubt any precious gems could have been any more lovely in their eyes.

While some would never have anything but a real tree, the artificial option has meant trees can go up much, much earlier than when the practice started centuries ago, leading some to question, “how early is too early?” While culture and tradition impact the decision, so too does age, according to a study that found the date chosen most often is 27 days before Christmas. Those under the age of 35 add a couple of days to that, while those over 35 shorten it by two days.

In some places December 8 is declared National Christmas Tree Day, a day encouraging people to put up and decorate a tree. Since it would seem a lot of us have a tree up by then, maybe it’s a day to take some time and appreciate what is hanging from its branches.

Whether it is heirloom ornaments or paper loops, antique treasures or children’s crafts, garland or icicles, lights or candles, each tree can be truly unique. That’s what makes a Christmas tree in our home so special. It can look like a decorator came in, or the result of tiny hands placing everything along the bottom branches, but it does not matter. Let your tree be your tree. It is the keeper of memories, the holder of emotion and the gathering spot for many. Yes, there are spectacular trees all around the world inspiring wonder to be sure, but the most beautiful are the ones that most accurately reflect those who have gathered around it over the years. That’s my outlook.