Christmas trees through the years

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

I assume that our first Christmas tree was for real because back then you could still buy those “fresh cuts” from Baguio or out of Camp John Hay. I vaguely remember that some of them used to be sold along Magsaysay Boulevard very near “the-go-to supermarket” called “Stop and Shop.” What I am certain of was that those Christmas trees were over-sprayed with artificial snow that came straight out of a can and looked like shaving foam. The only difference was that the artificial snow would be plasticized or rubberized over night.

After a few years of having a real tree for Christmas, people turned to artificial trees sprayed with pine scent and the traditional snow out of the can. Some folks would even hang half a dozen “pine scent” car fresheners just to spread the “real smell” of Christmas or Baguio in their living room. Whatever Christmas tree you had, it would never be complete without the obligatory “manger” bought from “Alemars” or was it “Goodwill Bookstore” before National Bookstore reigned supreme. I loved those cardboard cutouts of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Three Kings along with shepherds, sheep and cows.

When Martial Law was declared and my Dad, Louie Beltran could not work as a journalist or close to anything else except selling fighting cocks and Dobermans for four years, even our Christmas tree became a representation of our economic status or lack of it. No real or artificial trees for us. We had home-made Christmas trees. With our Mom Marita leading the charge, we all pooled our creativity and available resources to come up with the annual masterpiece.

On one year it was a wooden post wrapped with chicken wire shaped like a cone that was then “tastefully” covered with paper maché. On another year Mom who worked at the computer department of the SSS in the ’70s, came home with boxes of punched out discarded computer cards. Using the same post and chicken wired structure we started to wrap the cone with computer cards folded at one end to simulate the pointed leaves or edges of a Christmas tree. With the old reliable snow in the can and a few bags of glitter and Christmas balls we soon had another masterpiece.

There were years when the Christmas tree was not center stage or memorable or was no longer like before because we were no longer kids, we were not with our immediate family (as in living abroad or living separately) and not yet having kids of our own. I realize now that a tree is a tree no matter how beautiful you dress it up. What makes it special is the meaning we bring to it. Without family and or the excitement and innocent rejoicing of children, Christmas trees can actually be a painful reminder for some.

Twice I’ve celebrated a white Christmas “alone” or in the company of people who were also away from loved ones. No amount of music, good cheers, or the most expensive alcohol can stop the vale of tears that flow as it hits you that Christmas is about family! That’s when you realize why no Christmas tree was ever complete without the “manger” scene because the “manger scene” or the Nativity scene represents the family; God’s family, Jesus’ family and the family of humanity all gathered “together.”

For those of us who’ve moved around or found ourselves in remote places such as on an island or renting a room in the province or a foreign land, I’m sure you all know and appreciate the value of a nice looking “mini Christmas tree.” When space or shipping charges are at a premium, you will find smaller than normal Christmas trees.

As a married couple, Karen and I transitioned from artificial trees, top cut natural trees to eco-friendly alternative Christmas trees. Sorry if I don’t bother to research the variety due to deadline pressures, but there came a point when we planted Baguio Pine trees as well as another variety with the fewer, thicker curly “leaves.” We would buy live trees in a pot, use them for Christmas and then plant them in our weekend place in Lipa.

Ten years later I found out why Benguet pine is native to Baguio etc. Every time we would get a direct hit from a typhoon our Pine trees would be uprooted because the soil does not give them enough foundation to anchor on.  The other variety (Norwegian I think) does very well but tends to look indifferent and “cold” to the touch.

Two years ago, one of Karen’s friends and would have been business partner from the Netherlands had to leave unexpectedly just before Christmas. It was a sad and unexpected development but with a stiff upper lip everybody carried on, reassured that farewell was not forever.

That was when we ended up buying “Martine’s Christmas tree.” Our friend had put it up for sale realizing she would not have room for it in a European apartment. For an artificial tree, the tree stood tall at 10 feet and cost a pretty penny from Rustans. I don’t know why, but I bought it sight unseen. I felt it was the right tree for our high ceiling flat in Kapitolyo or in Lipa.

When we finally set up the tree, she, (as Billy Crystal would say) “Looked Marvelous!” Martine’s Christmas tree took center stage and has set the tone for how our Christmas looks like. A few days after Christmas last year, we learned that Martine’s farewell was forever.

This Christmas as I recall how our friend left us an unforgettable story and a Christmas tree that always reminds us of her, I realize yet another lesson in life: Christmas trees are just part of the story, a backdrop if you would, just to add color to the real story the one that took place in a manger; where a child was born unto us…his name is Emmanuel…God with us. Merry Christmas.












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