News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

December 2, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight

TERRE HAUTE — I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.

“Imagine using candles on a Christmas tree,” Bill said. “You’d have to be nuts. Those things would be an inferno in just minutes.”

I had an answer, of sorts, for that. Back when folks illuminated their trees with candles, their tree was usually harvested from the woods on the back 40, so it was fresh and moist. Modern trees are cut as early as September so they can be shipped to market. A fresh tree is not apt to burst into flames, at least less apt than a dry tree which doesn’t get a sip of water until it is sold, put into a stand and decorated as the centerpiece of the family Christmas.

What boggles my mind more than a dry, fire-prone tree with candles is the question of how to light them all. Maybe I’m confusing this with birthday cake candles which — given the number of candles on my cake these days — seem to burn to the frosting before I build up enough wind to blow them out. Maybe Christmas tree candles were larger or slower burning or something?

Still, by the time you got them all lit and, assuming the tree had not burst into flames, the opening of gifts would be a hasty operation if you wanted candlelight.

In my youth our tree was lit by strings of colorful electric lights. The problem was that if one bulb burned out, the entire string went dark. Groping through strands of “icicles” to seek and find the bad bulb was an adventure for Dad, but eventually, the string would glow again.

Since Santa brought our tree as well as our gifts when Ed and I were young, we were shoved into bed at an early hour so Mom and Dad could get at the decorating. As a result of early bedtime and the excitement of Santa’s visit, we began as early as 2 a.m. to tiptoe into Mom’s and Dad’s bedroom to ask if Santa had arrived.

Of course, he never arrived that early, but by 6 a.m. Dad was convinced he wasn’t going to get any more sleep, so he would rise — reluctantly — and say that he would go downstairs and see.

In retrospect, I think he went down to turn on the lights so that we would be dazzled by the beautiful tree Santa brought and the wonder of all the packages to be opened.

Imagine how long it would have taken if Dad had been asked to light dozens and dozens of candles at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter.

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