On December 19, 1965, my grandmother Margaret Killian Marin scribbled a short entry in her diary. It stated that her husband, Ernie, had put up a four-foot aluminum Christmas tree. My sister remembers that the tree held court in a space my grandparents grandly called “The River Room” that overlooked a bend in the river that ran through Belding, Michigan. My grandparents’ simple action came at a critical moment in the history of aluminum trees: Just 10 days earlier, a low-cost, animated, holiday TV special had stunned its producers by being an instant hit.
A Charlie Brown Christmas captured 15 million viewers, and an annual tradition was born. Lovers of aluminum Christmas trees could not help but notice that, in the special, Charlie Brown had loudly dismissed a shiny, aluminum tree, choosing to buy a forlorn live fir instead. The aluminum Christmas tree industry never recovered from that prime-time rejection.
But I think my grandparents made a fine choice back in 1965. And the 7-year-old version of me was clearly smitten with the color wheel spinning under that shining four-foot tree in their humble River Room.
Fast Forward to 1998. Young Brendan was now middle-aged Brendan and the producer of Almanac, a long-time Friday night public TV show in the Twin Cities. Almanac host Cathy Wurzer kept telling me about the wonders of her grandparents’ six-foot Evergleam aluminum Christmas tree. The Steele Family Singers were going to perform holiday tunes on our show that week, so she volunteered to bring in the tree and use it as part of the set. I agreed, and the combination of the Steeles and shiny trees became an annual Almanac tradition.
Don’t get me wrong. I love live Christmas trees. I buy one every year. But there’s something all space-agey and majestic about a twirling, shining aluminum tree. So I started looking for one to buy. Luckily, the metal tree market in the late 90s was still a bit soft.
I found a seven-foot aluminum Evergleam-brand tree at an antique store in Stillwater, and I remember calling my spouse asking if it was okay to spend 50 bucks on it. She said sure. So I brought it home. I soon saw a two-foot Evergleam going for $15 at another antique store. I had to have that one, too.
In subsequent years, I entered a stage where some thought intervention might be needed. I hopped on the new-fangled auction site Ebay and discovered that the aluminum tree supply often exceeded demand around the holidays. I started putting in $9.95 minimum bids and each year I’d score a few more trees.
I took advantage of the fact that aluminum trees – being compact – took up little room and were easy to store. Of course, I couldn’t help myself from buying a spinning color wheel light or a tree turner if the price was right, could I? I haven’t purchased an aluminum tree or accessory in well over a decade. Owning about 20 trees is plenty, I figure.
I have great fun with them during the holidays. Several are dedicated to the Almanac set each December. The Henehans usually put up a half dozen trees (short, tall, some hanging from a wall) at our home each year. We decorate them with vintage mid-century glass bulbs. They look fabulous.
And just to please Charlie Brown, my family also puts up a live tree.
Most Decembers, our living room has twin six-foot trees – one metal and one wooden -staring at each other, separated only by a sofa and a half century of changing tastes. I like to think that the great 1965 live-versus-aluminum tree controversy has ended. That my grandparents and Charlie Brown were both right.
To watch a video version of Cathy Wurzer and Brendan Henehan discuss this same history with some of the same stories (and other ones largely made up), watch the video below.
Imagine you are sitting in your favorite cozy chair, enjoying a warm drink and the crackle of a roaring fire when you hear an unexpected knock on your door. You brace yourself against the cold rush of air as you gingerly pull open the door, only to see a group of disguised forms looming on your doorstep. You’ve just been julebukked. Don’t know what that means? Discover more about this Scandinavian holiday tradition.
When Sears filed for bankruptcy and announced it would begin to close stores across the country in 2018, the news spurred a bittersweet rush of reverie that included the long-running holiday season catalog, the Sears Wish Book. In addition to pages filled with nostalgia, however, the Wish Book also pedaled products that would make us cringe in more modern times. Take one last look at the Sears Wish Book.
Nordic Waffles founder Stine Aasland aims to convey the comforts of her Norwegian home in the waffles she makes, using her mother’s now-famous recipe. Thinner than Belgian waffles, the Scandinavian variety is served with myriad toppings. To taste them is to love them. Good thing we have the recipe.