A Crucifix Almost Cut It

How to build a Christmas tree that means something

The definition of a Christmas tree has always been pretty loose in my household. Often it meant propping a dead branch we’d found on the ground against the wall. Before they bought into the fibre-optic revolution, my grandparents had one of those metallic red plastic ones. And once, when I was little, Dad went out and felled a huge pine tree from the back paddock of the farm. It required several people just to carry it up to the house, and then to hold it upright while Dad centred it in a special oversized bucket of leaden river stones. This monster took all night to decorate with glass baubles, tinsel and candy canes. It was so big it touched the roof of our two story lounge and from most parts of the room you couldn't actually make out the angel on the top. In the middle of the first night it came crashing down, smashing glass and crushing sweets. This was a rude early lesson on the nature of festive excess and also on the basic principles of structural engineering.

What is a Christmas tree though? Our knowledgeable friend, Wikipedia, describes it as “a decorated tree, usually an evergreen conifer such as spruce, pine or fir, traditionally associated with the celebration of Christmas.” I have a slightly looser set of requirements:

  • It must be tall enough to hold a reasonable gaggle of presents underneath. Those miniature ones people have on their desks just don’t cut it.
  • It must be vaguely tree shaped, or if not tree shaped at least made of some kind of organic material. A stick stuck in the ground for example isn’t really tree-shaped enough, although you might consider it organic enough. A broomstick with a vacuum cleaner pipe across it like a crucifix is getting close. A broomstick with a vacuum cleaner pipe across it and above that a wooden spoon is pretty much bang on. You've got a rudimentary tree. Well done.
  • And finally, you should be able to hang some kind of decoration from it. Even if your decoration is only seaweed, you should be able to drape it in a way that’s more or less pleasing to the eye.

    That’s it.

    Of course this slim criteria allows endless possibilities. You could conceivably make a Christmas tree out of anything, and I pretty much have. Driftwood from a beach on the East Cape, vacuum cleaners and broomsticks, strings tied to a fence, one constructed entirely from beer boxes. These are the trees I remember with the most fondness, not because they were beautiful or ‘real’, but because they were a small emblematic part of the some of the best holidays of my life. After all it’s not really about the tree. It’s what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with that counts.