Christmas Tree Light, The Old-Fashioned Way

By Vladimir Brezina

At this season, there are Christmas trees everywhere you look in the city, in stores, banks, apartment building lobbies. Most are only superficially decorated, standing under bright lights which reveal all there is to see at one glance, mere abstractions of the idea of the Christmas tree…

To me, a proper Christmas tree should be large, dark, mysterious, and excessive, full of possibilities. No doubt this is some Proustian attempt to recapture the Christmas trees of my childhood. I remember that Christmas trees were so much bigger then, with spreading branches that allowed glimpses into the dark interior where all kinds of ornaments glinted in the soft candlelight. (Many of the ornaments were wrapped candies that I hunted for in the days after Christmas…)

So, now that I have to be my own Santa Claus, a few rules: No artificial trees—it has to be a fragrant, real tree. As large as possible. Richly decorated. And above all, lit not by artificial Christmas lights, but by the unique, unmistakable glow of real candles!

In bright light, the tree looks pretty enough… but somehow still awaiting its true moment.

Candlelight works its magic. The whole tree glows with a soft radiance. The light picks out the glitter of ornaments from the pools of darkness deep among the branches. The candles burn silently, yet flicker perceptibly from moment to moment. The rising air sets strands of tinsel subtly in motion, shimmering in the light. The tree is alive.

Of course, it’s a good idea to keep one of these handy…

40 responses to “Christmas Tree Light, The Old-Fashioned Way

  1. Sophisticated truth meets reality. I love this!

  2. Love the photos, especially the ornament details.

  3. Makes me remember grandma’s tree with its candles – she’d find the tree herself in the forest surrounding her house…ah childhood! (nowadays, with two cats in the house, candles remain a thing of the past…)

  4. OK, maybe a project for next year, then.

  5. What a lovely tradition, the tree looks beautiful.

  6. you have captured the tradition and the warm glow of Christmas lights quite beautifully

    • The candles make all the difference! Artificial lights are just too cold and also static—that’s an unexpected subtle effect of the candlelight, how it shimmers and moves from moment to moment…

  7. nothing beats a real Christmas tree although sadly I have had to resort to an artificial one

  8. You are speaking my language, Vlad, I agree with absolutely everything you have so beautifully written. This line: “a proper Christmas tree should be large, dark, mysterious, and excessive, full of possibilities” just made me fall a little in love with you. Shh, don’t tell Johna. ;)

  9. It’s a winning combination, Johna ;)

  10. Gorgeous, lavishly decorated tree – and with live candles – my absolute favourite – absolutely illegal in Australia, and I’d never seen them except in Christmas cards until i spent Christmas with my friend in Switzerland one year. It’s a marvellous tradition Vlad – you’re right!

    • The live candles—and a live tree, of course!—make all the difference. Now, I still have to get some sparklers for this year…

      • Live tree, of course – goes without saying – how else will everything smell the right way? But sparklers, Vlad? How do they go on the tree?

        • Like this:

          The ones we used to have had just simple wires as their stems. So bend the wire into a hook and hang the sparkler upside down on a branch…

        • Wow, how gorgeous. I suppose it’s because Christmas is usually swelteringly hot that all these fiery traditions died out – or were legislated out – in Australia.

        • Well, other places these kinds of things are banned because of the fear of fire… or the fear of people having fun…

        • I suppose the early settlers put candles on their trees, but since they will have had to use Australian natives as their Christmas trees they will have had some disasters, I think, as they are almost all full of oils and are incendiary when coupled with fire. That, and the heat, probably put an end to the use of candles pretty early on. I never remember them, and I don’t recall Ma ever bemoaning the lack of them on the tree each year.

          Fire is probably the excuse for the bannings, but in Australia. for instance, too often just a handful of people having too much fun manage to turn glorious things like fireworks night into roaring infernos, or weapons which kill and maim. Perhaps it’s a manifestation of the nanny state that has led to the bans. Bloody shame, that – I have wonderful memories of bonfire night, out in the country, dancing around the fire, and watching in excitement as the rockets soared into the blackness of the sky, exploding noisily into a miracle of stars. But I don’t miss reading (or hearing on the news) about the fires, and injuries the next morning.

        • In other countries, too. But in the US the fact that people die in large numbers doesn’t appear to be a sufficient reason for a ban, at least in certain cases—viz., guns… ;-)

        • One of those “American” mysteries, eh – the vaunted right of the individual over the community? Every time it happens it’s such a tragedy, and that’s it. I’m sorry, it’s difficult to understand.

          But, I’m soooo pleased you get to have candles and sparklers on your Christmas tree!

  11. BEAUTIFUL TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS TREE!

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

  12. Wow wow! Just like the Christmas Trees that I have seen in Christmas Cards of old. I love your Christmas Tree, better than ours (shhh, just don’t tell my husband. It is his family’s Christmas tradition.) ;-) :-))

  13. Wow – just beautiful! (love the fire extinguisher!) What a lovely tradition! The ornaments are what make our tree special – we talk about hre each one came from as we hang them.

    • Same here… occasionally we acquire a new ornament, and every year some of the glass balls die, but most of the ornaments have been around for many, many years and have very diverse histories…

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