Songs of the Season ~ O, Tumbleweed!

If the words ‘toolpusher’, ‘roughneck,’ ‘monkeyboard,’ or ‘mud man’ aren’t familiar, you might not recognize the aging bit of oil field equipment in the photo as a Christmas tree.  Obviously, it has nothing to do with the fragrant pines and firs we bring into our homes for the holiday, but the array of valves, spools, and fittings designed to control the flow of fluids into or out of a well apparently reminded oil and gas field workers of old-fashioned, decorated Christmas trees: so much so that the name took hold, and still is used today.

Whether Charles Follen would have appreciated a connection between the improbable oilfield trees and the more traditional ‘tannenbaum’ he introduced to New England is impossible to say, but I suspect he would have been intrigued.

Raised in Germany, Follen immigrated to America in 1824, becoming Harvard’s first German-language instructor in 1825. By 1832, living in Cambridge with his wife and two-year-old son, he decided to recreate the German Christmas customs of his childhood and youth. In the woods near his home, he cut a small fir, decorated its branches with dolls and candy-filled cornucopias, and illuminated it with candles.

Harriet Martineau, an English journalist visiting Boston at the time, described the unveiling of the tree at the Follens’ Christmas party:

The tree was the top of a young fir, planted in a tub which was ornamented with moss. Smart dolls and other whimsies glittered on the evergreen and there was not a twig which had not something sparkling upon it…
I mounted the steps behind the tree to see the effect of opening the doors. It was delightful. The children poured in, but in a moment every voice was hushed. Their faces were upturned to the blaze, all eyes wide open, all lips parted, all steps arrested. Nobody spoke, only Charley leaped for joy….
It really looked beautiful; the room seemed in a blaze, and the ornaments were so well hung on that no accident happened, except that one doll’s petticoat caught fire. There was a sponge tied to the end of a stick to put out any supernumerary blaze, and no harm ensued.
I have little doubt that the Christmas tree will become one of the most flourishing exotics of New England.

Over time, trees like the one introduced by Follen changed. Candles gave way to electric lights, imported glass baubles replaced paper chains, and peppermint canes supplanted candy-filled cornucopias. Still, the pine, the fir, and the spruce remained the Christmas trees of choice: good trees being defined by their conical shape, even branches, and straight trunks.

Finding such a perfect tree was possible in New England. In Texas, it was more difficult, particularly in the days before Christmas tree farms and modern transportation.

The native Ashe juniper, also known as Texas cedar or mountain cedar, became a more-than-adequate substitute for early settlers. Even today, hill country families harvest nicely-shaped Christmas cedars from their land, keeping with long Texas tradition.

A decorated Ashe juniper at Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home

Farther west and south, even cedar grows sparse. Ever-inventive, a few lucky Texans harvest the stalk of the agave, or century plant, for drying and decoration. Impressive in its natural state, the plant’s stalk can grow to as much as thirty feet, making it especially appropriate for large spaces.

Agave at Sunset ~ Goliad, Texas
Decorated agave at Mission Espíritu Santo, Goliad, Texas

If there isn’t an agave handy and cedars are in short supply, Texans in the Panhandle always can turn to the tumbleweed. They’re often lighted and hung from trees as yard ornaments, and more than a few rotund ‘snowmen’ have made use of the weeds, but the best stories revolve around tumbleweed Christmas trees.

Red Steagall, well-known cowboy poet and raconteur, tells one of the best tumbleweed holiday stories, and he tells it in song. As it turns out, there are Christmas trees in Notrees, Texas, and not all of them are sitting in the oil patch.

It was a rough year for roughnecks’ children,
hard times and harder livin’,
we moved when the rent come due,
and it come due once a week.
That year in late December
found us in an old house trailer,
west of Odessa, near a town they call Notrees.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Notrees, Texas
Too poor to pay attention,
Daddy lived on good intentions;
he intended Christmas to be just what we believed.
Drove to town in the company pickup,
when he didn’t have a sawbuck
for the price of a Christmas tree —
he brought back a tumbleweed.
The tumbleweed I captured outside Dodge City, Kansas
Christmas eve in Notrees, Texas,
wind blowin’ through the cactus,
Santy Claus was a rich kid’s saint
and a poor kid’s dream.
I’d trade every fancy present
I ever had, or ever will get,
for the night of the tumbleweed Christmas tree.
Daddy set it on the dinette table,
Mama made a newsprint angel,
ornaments of tinfoil scraps and buttons on a string.
Took us all night to decorate it,
When we got done I’ll have to say that
it was the prettiest tumbleweed that I’d ever seen.
O, Tumbleweed
Wind rocked the trailer like a cradle,
While we sang our Christmas carols
settin’ on a sofa on the duct-tape Naugahyde.
Daddy looked proud as a big city banker,
Mama tried hard to be thankful
Lookin’ at that tumbleweed,
she laughed until she cried.
Christmas eve in Notrees, Texas,
Wind blowin’ through the cactus,
Santy Claus was a rich kid’s saint
and a poor kid’s dream.
I’d trade every fancy present
I ever had or ever will get
for the night of the tumbleweed Christmas tree.
I was just six, goin’ on seven
being poor is an education;
That night I learned a lot
about just what Christmas means.
It means love and it means lovin’,
It means money don’t mean nothin’,
and it means a tumbleweed can make a Christmas tree.
Christmas eve in Notrees, Texas,
Wind blowin’ through the cactus,
Santy Claus was a rich kid’s saint
and a poor kid’s dream.
I’d trade every fancy present
I ever had or ever will get
for the night of the tumbleweed Christmas tree.

And so it is. ‘Makin’ do’ isn’t the worst thing in the world, and sometimes it’s the best. After all — it’s not the tree that counts, but the song it evokes.

Comments always are welcome.

104 thoughts on “Songs of the Season ~ O, Tumbleweed!

  1. Many amazing finds you share here! From the 1832 Cambridge tannebaum from German immigrants to the beauty of Agave decorated, then the Tumbleweed tradition here in the SW — all of these show ingenuity – DIY. The song by Red Steagall paints his childhood reality so well. Bless them. Sorry it’s been a while since I have stopped by. Your writing is a great reward, Linda!

    1. No need to apologize ~ I’m just glad to have you stop by. I hope all’s well in your world, and that your art still is giving you as much pleasure as it gives to others. I thought of you the other day when I received notice of Jack’s progress with his book. There have been a lot of changes in recent years, but as many have been good as otherwise. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this post; it certainly does evoke your part of the world!

  2. Great article again. Christmas is complete with the smell of Tannenbaum, in my childhood it made Christmas.

    In my last year back in the Netherlands and booked to leave early January 1956 to go to Australia my parents decided not to have a Christmas tree.

    I had already been taken out of school and was working delivering fruit to the embassies in The Hague. The tips were bigger than my wages, especially from the US embassy. I bought a lovely ‘real’ Christmas tree dragging it home in the dark behind my bicycle.

    We had our last ‘real’ Christmas.

    1. Imagining you dragging your Christmas tree home behind your bicycle brought to mind the ‘Christmas tree chapter’ from a book I enjoyed during my teen years: Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, the best passage from that chapter is available here, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

      Years ago, I purchased an artificial tree from a shop specializing in Texas crafts. It has twin wooden trunks, and looks remarkably like a cedar tree fresh from a Texas hillside. Granted, it doesn’t have that Christmas tree aroma, but at one of our local stores, when they cut bottom limbs from trees that are purchased, they throw them into a box, and they’re free for the taking. A few of those branches in the house, and the fragrance of Tannenbaum is back.

      Christmas memories often are the best memories, and I certainly enjoyed the ones you shared here.

  3. When we lived in Silver City, NM, it was common practice in more than just a few homes to cut the top 4-5 feet off a century plant (agave), spray paint it with gold paint, stick it into a pot filled with lava rocks, and hang ornaments, tinsel, pepper ristras, and lights on it, much like the “tree” in Goliad.
    Never heard the poem/song by Red Steagall, but I love the line “Being poor is an education.”
    Merry Christmas, Linda.

    1. The addition of the ristras is perfect: colorful, and local color at that. I’ve always enjoyed the ‘trees’ created by sailboat owners, too. It can be a little tricky to do it well, but lights strung from the top of a mast can create a perfectly lovely Christmas tree.

      Being poor certainly is an education. Some of the lessons my parents passed on from life in wars and economic depression stuck with me in interesting ways, although it was only in my mother’s latter years that I began to hear some of the details that weren’t considered suitable for a child’s ears. I learned enough to be certain that she would have listened to this song and smiled.

    1. No dashing through the snow here, although ‘dragging through the sand’ might capture the fun of getting a tumbleweed home. In fact, after Christmas, a lot of traditional trees make a trek to the beaches, where they’re used to help build up the dunes. It makes so much more sense than simply tossing them out, and people seem to get a great deal of satisfaction from it.

  4. Gosh such a beautiful ending:
    ‘Makin’ do’ isn’t the worst thing in the world, and sometimes it’s the best. After all — it’s not the tree that counts, but the song it evokes.”

    so much wisdom in this
    the song was fun
    and a tumbleweed Christmas tree sounds really fun

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it — the song, the tree, and the bit of wisdom from our forebearers. It’s worth reminding ourselves from time to time that the gifts of Christmas are all around, and the best ones are immune to shipping or supply chain problems.

  5. According to the Handbook of Texas, Notrees “had one native tree before construction of a large Shell gas plant forced its removal. Grocer Charlie Brown started his store in 1946, became the first postmaster later that year, and provided the town’s name. Notrees served the TXL oilfield of the Permian Basin. By 1956 the town had ten oil company camps and a population of more than 500, served by a school, a recreation hall, a liquor store, two grocery stores, and several other businesses. Later the camps closed and many oil workers moved away, but in the 1980s the community still existed, amidst recent growths of mesquite and other trees.”

    So Notrees no longer has no trees.

    1. Did you laugh, as I did, when you read the name of the man who started the store and gave the town its name? How many people watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every year without ever knowing that an entirely real Charlie Brown may have celebrated with a tree akin to ‘our’ Charlie Brown’s tree?

      Notrees may have become Sometrees, but as far as I know Levelland still is level.

      1. Yes, I had the same reaction to the name Charlie Brown.

        When I encountered the name Levelland in the late 1970s or early ’80s, the fact that the two words were written as one kept me from initially seeing what was going on. I took it to be a family name like Llewelyn, and I accordingly pronounced it with stress on the middle syllable: Levélland. Eventually it dawned on me that the meaning was ‘level land.’

        Another curiously named Texas town, this one not far north of Austin, is Nameless—which by having that name belies its name.

  6. Something is messing up on my end. I couldn’t play the song. I’m disappointed because I always love your music selections. The agave tree is lovely in its simplicity. The tumbleweed? Well, not so much. However, they do hold much history for those of us from the plains of SE Colorado and surrounding areas.

    1. Thanks for letting me know you couldn’t hear the song, Oneta. I swapped out the audio player for a YouTube version that will let you listen; it’s such a good song, I wouldn’t want you to miss it. Those invasive tumbleweeds can range from a nuisance to a real problem, but they’re still interesting. I still have the one I showed in the photo from Dodge City. I put it in the back seat of my car, brought it home, and now it sits atop a cabinet in the bathroom. Now and then, when I’d stop for gas, someone would spot it and say, “Lady — is that a tumbleweed in your car?” I’d just grin, say ‘yes,’ and leave them wondering.

  7. ‘Make do and mend’ was a saying during WW2 here in the UK. There were so many shortages that coupons had to be used to buy the rationed food. Children’s clothes were made from old curtains, shoes were lined with cardboard and paper to try to keep out the damp when the soles were worn. There was no money for fripperies or frills. My own mum’s wedding dress was made from a torn parachute found in the top of a tree after an airman had bailed out.

    I can remember our Christmas tree being decorated with painted pinecones, corn dollies and candles when I was small. I was five or six before we had “bought” decorations.

    But whatever commercial way we celebrate these days, the words – “I wish you peace at Christmas”, said with feeling, still mean the same.
    I hope your Christmas is Peaceful, Linda.

    1. I had to smile when I read about your mother’s wedding dress. When I read the biography of Flory Jagoda, the woman who composed the Hanukkah song Ocho Kandelikas, she mentioned the same thing: making her wedding dress from an old parachute after escaping to safety and meeting her husband-to-be. That was the first time I’d come across a parachute-as-wedding-dress, and now here’s my second. What a time they lived through.

      I wonder how many people mend clothing these days? When I was young, there was a mending basket, just as there was a laundry basket. Learning how to repair a seam or a pair of socks with the heels worn through was part of growing up — for boys as well as girls. I still have my mother’s darning egg, although today’s socks seem to be better quality, and darning isn’t so often required.

      Your saying about mending applies to far more than socks, of course. There’s a reason Robert Frost titled his poem “Mending Wall”!

      Sandi, I hope your Christmas is enjoyable, as well. Today I’ll be baking — a perfect way to pass some hours when it’s cold and windy outdoors.

    1. Another reader had problems with the music player, so I swapped it out for a YouTube version. Now you can listen at your leisure. It’s a wonderful example of the music being exactly right for the lyrics, which doesn’t always happen.

      As for the oilfield ‘tree,’ every now and then I’ll come across one that’s been decorated in some more traditional way; it’s really fun.

  8. A delight to read! In my home, the “cedar” Christmas tree was cut from our lease along the Pompey Creek in central Texas and decorated abundantly with family ornaments. I really like your post. And,…Merry Christmas!

    1. Jack! What a delight to have you stop by. Your new avatar looks perfectly made for a certain book’s cover. I was delighted to get your announcement of the progress, and look forward to reading the book when it’s published and available.

      It’s hard to believe so many years have passed, with so many changes, but it’s good to know that both of us still are pursuing creativity in our own ways. Merry Christmas to you, and every good wish for a healthy and happy New Year!

    1. And just think — once Christmas Day arrives, we still have the Twelve Days of Christmas to celebrate! I usually keep my tree up until Epiphany on January 6, unless the urge to get moving into the New Year overcomes me, and I do it on January 1. Either way, there’s plenty left to enjoy — especially our newly seasonal weather.

      1. I usually take everything down the first weekend in January. That makes it basically a full month and makes the effort worthwhile.
        I took a picture of 2 ducks in the same parking lot I once showed you the wood stork. I used to seeing ducks around there, occcassionally, but these were much larger.

        1. Is there any chance you saw these Egyptian geese? I’ve seen them only twice, but read that they’ve reached San Antonio and Austin, where they enjoy hanging around golf courses. They’re in Florida, too. They certainly are impressive: large, and very loud. From what I’ve read, they tend to fly or walk more than they swim. I photographed these at a marina, where they’ve been hanging around the pool and the palapas. Whether they’ve been ordering little drinks with umbrellas in them I can’t say!

          1. That’s them, Linda!! I never saw them before. I kept calling them ducks, but my better half suggested geese – I knew you would know!! Thanks again.

    1. The agaves are splendid enough on their own, but they certainly make wonderful additions to holiday decorating. I smiled when I saw the card you chose this year. The Red Tree has a bit of the same look, and it’s just as appealing.

  9. In my first home away from home we had one of those cedar trees as our Christmas tree. It looked more like a tumble weed. What a delightful jarring of memories.

    1. Here’s the thing: I don’t remember a single specific lot-purchased Christmas tree. It’s the unusual, the deformed, and the odd substitution that get remembered — along with the standard tree that the cat insisted on climbing and un-decorating on her first Christmas. I love that you and a former president both have had a cedar Christmas tree.

  10. A terrific post, Linda. The tradition of decorating roadside Junipers continues today. I wonder if it is in the spirit of the days when that was all there was for a Christmas tree. Some are trying to block this custom, but I find it to be a joy when out of nowhere, a tree stands glittering in the sun. Thanks for this.

    1. I won’t even speculate on people’s reasons for fussing about decorated roadside trees. When I’ve had a chance to see one up close, I’ve noticed that the decorations have been chosen to avoid glass and such that could harm wildlife, but otherwise? Like you, the combination of the surprise and glittery beauty is perfect.

        1. Those signs are smart, and add to the fun. My favorites are the decorated trees along I-10, especially in the hill country road cuts. Someone was braver than I am, to clamber up those rocks to tinselize those junipers!

        2. And then there’s this: “A reminder from the U.S. Forest Service not to over-tinselize: those caught red- (or green-) handed trimming trees along national-forest roads in Arizona face fines or up to six months in jail.”

  11. Dear Linda,
    the Christmas tree actually goes back to the pre-Christian tradition of the Vikings. They got evergreen branches or trees and ivy in their houses to celebrate the winter solstice and honour their fertility goddess Freya (in what is nowadays Finland it’s Sämpsä). The Christians took nearly all of their symbols and metaphors from other cultures as this of the Christmas tree as well.
    Wishing you a happy holiday season
    The Fab Four of Cley

    1. You comment started me thinking about other customs that have come down to us from those early days: kissing under mistletoe, ‘first-footing’ in Britain, the yule log, the hanging of greens, caroling. Adapting customs has enriched our celebrations, for sure; thank goodness no one in those very early days was fussing about ‘cultural appropriation’! Now that I think of it, we can’t leave out Saturnalia and all those solstice-related practices. In the darkest part of the year, all of them bring light and happiness.

      A very happy Christmas to you and the Fab Four, and every good wish for the New Year!

  12. I loved the song and music. It reminded me so much of how I grew up – in an old farm house that a strong wind gust would rattle the window panes and stir the curtains. Dad cut a small cedar from the field fence lines for a Christmas tree- those scrubby trees had to be cut out every so often anyway. Ornaments were a mix of old, hand-me-down glass bulbs, and strings of tinsel. As a lover of nature and native plants, I really like this idea of the tumbleweed or agave, or any other tall sunflower plant around here. When the weather (hopefully) warms up in a day or two, I may have to take the buggy out to the leased property and see if I can find an appropriate tumble weed. Isn’t it funny how some years they’re seen tumbling around in great numbers and others, nary one can be found?

    1. Your mention of the strong wind rattling the windows took me back to my childhood home in Iowa, where the shadows of the trees outside our second story windows always danced in the wind, and sometimes scraped if the wind was strong enough. It was just a little scary, until I was old enough to understand that the trees weren’t trying to come indoors and snatch me.

      I’ve always enjoyed more natural versions of decorated trees. I’ve hung tiny stars from my tumbleweed, and decorated a vase filled with red osier dogwood branches I brought from Minnesota in 2011. I hope you find something suitable while you’re scouting around.

      There used to be a short film on YouTube that unfortunately has disappeared. It was called “Tumbleweed!” and it told the story of a tumbleweed that refused to tumble. In the story, tumbleweeds grew under the arms of Saguaro cacti; eventually, they’d fall off, and start to tumble. One obstinate little weed didn’t want to tumble, and the film was that one’s story. I’m going to make another try at finding the thing; it was charming, and hilarious. If you see a tumbleweed on your property what seems to be just sitting — well, who knows?

    1. And we do have so much. There are a few things we could use more of, like strong and rational leadership, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. As it is, Christmas is coming, and it can’t be cancelled — thank goodness!

    1. That’s just wonderful. I love to see drilling rigs shining at night — especially offshore. There’s nothing quite so nerve-wracking as hearing a platform before you see it! Your Karnes County ‘trees’ remind me of star-topped windmills, too. Light in the darkness, for sure.

    1. Not to mention Bug Tussle, Dime Box, Uncertain, and Nameless. And, if you’re into names based on topography, there’s always Levelland. Of course it’s in the Panhandle!

  13. The oil field ‘Christmas tree’ amuses me. When we lived in Scotland, we could see a small oil terminal in the Firth of Forth. In those days it wasn’t very big but was well lit up at night – to us it looked like a Christmas tree so hubby and I always called it that. Merry Christmas!

    1. For years, I thought the ‘Firth of Forth’ was an imaginary place, created by C.S. Lewis or someone. I guess not! I love that you and your hubby saw the resemblance to holiday decoration and also called it a Christmas tree.

  14. The commercialization of Christmas is everybody’s loss. Time spent as a family, parents and children together, making decorations for the tree and decorating it is more important than how fancy the decorations are or how impressive. So many lessons a child can learn from that about the meaning of family, about pulling together as a team,about what ingenuity can accomplish by turning the mundane into the special, the pride of making something appreciated by others. I suppose bought ornaments are OK, but only if they have a history: We got this the year such and such happened; we were given this by someone important to the family; this was passed down to us by this or that relation who is no longer with us. The holidays should be spent integrating the past year into the family history and lore, celebrating who we are and where we come from. Those are the things that children remember. The thing that make objects precious is not how much they cost, but the memories they accumulate over time, like a snowball rolling downhill.

    1. I’ve always smiled a bit at ‘theme trees,’ particularly those that are created to fit a certain decor. A sentence like “This year, we need to have a purple tree — it’ll go better with the new paint color in the living room” leaves me cold. That kind of approach isn’t either illegal or immoral, but what may start out as a grasp at individuality often becomes its opposite, since word that purple trees are ‘in’ will sweep the neighborhood, with predictable results.

      I have plenty of purchased ornaments, but each has its memories, like the poinsettia made of crawfish claws. I remember exactly where I bought it, which reminds me of a certain trip, which in turn evokes a rush of other memories: all good. Many childhood decorations are gone now — the paper chains, the cellophane covered ‘stained glass windows,’ the artificial snow made from Ivory flakes — but thank goodness the memories still remain.

      On another subject entirely, I think this will please you. I just learned that the American Birding Association has chosen the burrowing owl as its bird of the year. Someday I’ll have the pleasure of seeing one!

  15. Dear Linda,
    I had never heard of agave Christmas trees, much less of tumbleweed trees, but I’m intrigued by the idea and the results you showed in your photos. We humans can make do with whatever is on hand and turn it into something meaningful and beautiful.
    Enjoy whatever Christmas decorations you choose to surround yourself with.

    1. I’m glad to have introduced you to a couple of our Texas traditions, Tanja. Even where trees or tree substitutes aren’t plentiful, people make do. Two forms of ‘Christmas tree’ I especially enjoy are sailboats rigged with lights to look like a tree, and lighted windmills. The courthouse in the town I grew up in was famous for the lights strung from its top. From the air, it looked like a huge tree, and airline pilots occasionally would make a little detour to show passengers the sight. It was great fun, and I was thrilled to see that the tradition has been re-established this year, and more kids will get to enjoy it.

  16. When I was young, our family always had real Christmas trees. My father and I were the ones who went looking for them, and I was the particular one. I remember one year it started to rain, then the temps dropped and it was sleeting, and we were at a tree lot while I was carefully picking the perfect tree. Dad had a crew cut, and he was holding a tree up for my inspection and I noticed that his hair was actually frozen in place. But that didn’t stop me from telling him that tree wasn’t quite right…..and the funny thing is, I look back at those photos of the trees I picked and they weren’t a whole lot better than the Johnson’s tree, or even the tumbleweed trees!

    1. I was thinking about your experience, and our family’s own tree-choosing, and it occurred to me that it may have been the ‘choosing’ that was important, rather than the tree itself. I remember trees that ended up in a corner, or had a certain side facing the wall, because when we got them home we realized that what seemed perfect in the lot wasn’t perfect at all. But it was ‘our’ tree by then, and we added or cut branches as necessary, or filled in the spaces with ornaments.

      It sounds like your dad was as patient as mine. Choosing a tree in sleet or snow’s no fun — except when it is!

    1. Tumbleweed snowmen are great. We’re a little short on tumbleweeds around here, but at some ranch or farm gates, you’ll see round hay bales that have been stacked and painted white. That’s making do at its finest!

  17. Although the Round Hill School for Boys, where Follen originally taught before going to Harvard, is no longer in existence, Round Hill Road in Northampton hosts another famed school, The Clarke School for Hearing and Speech. Formerly The Clarke School for the Deaf.

    People can be quite innovative and make the most of what’s at hand as your examples of the variety of Christmas Trees in Texas show. That piece of oil field plumbing as a Christmas Tree does take some imagination and I’d guess endless hours and days working in that field would push the imagination in a few directions. The Agave Tree is cute and reminds me of the ornament tree Mary Beth is thinking of getting for the next time Christmas comes around. We used to have a three foot tall artificial one that we set up on a folding piecrust table but with Bentley’s rambunctiousness and mischief making we can’t do that without peril.

    Although not a Christmas song, I remember another Tumbleweed tune from my childhood and Roy Rogers.

    1. I never thought to look at Northhampton’s location; it’s practically in your back yard. I just read a bit about the history of the Round Hill School: very interesting.

      I thought a reader might have encountered those oil field Christmas trees, and sure enough: just night a commenter said her dad had been a consulting geologist in the oil field, and had plenty of experience with the things. In the beginning, all those valves and such were needed — and manually operated. Today, technological advances have made things easier, if not as visually interesting.

      I’ve decorated my own tumbleweed, and hung tiny ornaments from red osier dogwood branches I keep in a floor vase. Anything will do — although my options did expand once Dixie Rose grew old and lazy.

      Before clicking your tumbleweed tune link, I made a guess, and I was right. We used to listen to the Sons of the Pioneers every noon during the market reports. Corn, soybeans, pork bellies, and good music — what could be better? I still listen to the farm reports on the AM station out of Beaumont/Port Arthur in the mornings. They go pretty well with coffee.

  18. Tannenbaum is good, but any substitute is good so long there is joy around it!

    I take opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas full of joy and peace and now I tell you a short real story about my “tannenbaum” many years ago !

    When I was im my middle ‘30s one year I decided to buy a real tree, not very tall perhaps a little more than 1 meter, the apartment where I lived in that time was not very large.

    I made all the ornaments (I still have many pieces dating since when a was a child) for the Christmas time. Middle january I took away the ornaments and put the tree in a vase on my terrace waiting for next year Christmas.

    Each year the tree grew a little and I changed the vase. Each year I took it inside for the Christmas time and than out on the terrace again. it was ok for three or four year but than I noticed that in spring the tree was suffering. Getting yellow and slim, too slim.

    Being not an expert I did not know what to do. So I asked a colleague whom I knew had a passion for trees and he suggested me that probably the place where I kept it was not ideal and it was going to die. I asked what alternative could be possible.

    He proposed to take and plant it anywhere in “living” soil where thew tree could have place for its roots and grown up freely.
    So we did and the tree was planted in a small field in front of a church in the village where my colleague lived. And it survived.

    Late I went to work for a different company in a different town and had not many opportunities to meet my ex colleague. And we all know how time flies.

    It happened me to meet him again years later and we had a nice chat about the good time we have been working together (I was very lucky to work in a very good team) when I remembered the tree and asked him how about “my” tree.

    He answered “ it’s still in front of the church, it’s ok, grown up and is now higher than the church bell tower!”

    Perhaps one day I’ll drive there to see “my” tree!!!

    1. You’re so right: even the poorest tree shines when it has a chance to reflect love and joy.

      Your story is wonderful! How lucky you were to have a friend who could see what your tree needed, and help you find a way to give it new life. It’s in the nature of trees to grow, of course, and once yours had room to grow, it certainly obliged. What’s even better is that you met your colleague again, and found out the happy history of the tree. Not everyone has such an experience; I’m glad that you did.

      Perhaps one day you will make that drive. Wouldn’t it be fun to take photos of it now? The images would make a fine complement to your heart-warming story.

  19. Memories can be an adhesive which binds loved ones to each other across the expanse of time.

    Daddy was a carpenter and for many years we “made do” with what might be generously called “Charlie Brown” Christmas trees. As he became more affluent, Mother insisted on the biggest and best tree we could find on the lot. Sort of a pendulum swing from “making do” to “because we can”, I reckon.

    The Air Force flung Gini and I around the world and we were enriched by experiencing Christmas in different cultures. The Russian community in upstate New York, the fascinating culture of a German holiday season, learning about Mexican traditions from our neighbors in San Antonio and the “West Texas Experience”. Not exactly “Notrees”, but San Angelo introduced us to tumbleweeds and acres of Agave plants. Didn’t think about Agave as a Christmas tree, but our memories of dozens of hummingbirds flitting around the flowers certainly was a festive event!

    Terrific post – again!

    Gini is busy preparing for a family ornament-making day this week. It’s been great fun in the past and her ornaments are absolutely fabulous! That is my totally unbiased opinion.

    We both wish you the Merriest Christmas ever!

    1. Here’s an odd tidbit that somehow amuses me: the name of the man behind the founding of Notrees, Texas was — Charlie Brown. I have no idea what his Christmas trees looked like, but I hope he found a substitute as cheering as our far more famous cartoon character Charlie Brown managed to scrounge up.

      Experiencing the holiday in different places certainly helps to break down beliefs about what’s necessary for a ‘good’ Christmas. I’ll confess that snow and Christmas were so firmly joined in my midwestern mind that my first year of celebrating in equatorial West Africa was a little disorienting. But I adjusted, and now I’m ready to rejoice in the 80 degree temperatures forecast for the Gulf Coast this year! I may not have the traditional foods of my Swedish forebearers, but I’ve got tamales, and that’s nothing but good!

      Merry Christmas to you and Gini, and every good wish for a wonderful new year of exploring and enjoying.

  20. LOL.. “Oh, Christmas bush, oh, Christmas bush…”

    We make do with what we’ve got, don’t we?

    My maternal grandmother was always able to scrounge up a little 3 foot tall tabletop Fraser fir. It was decorated with glass icicles and bubble lights. Those bubble lights fascinated me.

    My paternal grandfather would go out on the back lot of his farm and cut down a small long leaf pine. Granny had a string of those big multicolor bulbs and a few ornaments. I always suspected that, if it wasn’t for us grandkids, they wouldn’t have bothered with a tree.

    1. “Oh, Christmas bush,” indeed. I came very, very close to posting the cat carols again this year, but I was on a bit of a roll with new stuff, so I decided to let them rest. Maybe next year. Speaking of my departed sweetie, I still remember those early years when I lived with an undecorated tree. That creature could strip ornaments faster than I could put them back up.

      I’d forgotten those glass icicles. On the other hand, I still have some of the original tinsel from the trees of my childhood. Mom insisted that we carefully pluck every strand from the tree and save it. We’d wrap it around a piece of cardboard and tuck it away until the next year, and it worked so successfully that it’s lasted all these years. Of course, that stuff was real ‘tin’sel, too. It wasn’t the cheap stuff they sell today — and it still shines like it did in the 1950s.

      The Vermont Country Store still sells those bubble lights. They also have bubble light night lights that are really neat. I got one as a little stocking gift for Mom one year, and she ended up using it all year round.

      1. Yep, I remember pulling the tinsel off the tree and carefully wrapping it around that cardboard for future trees.

        I also remember being admonished – “Don’t tear the paper!” and “Save the ribbon! Save the bows!”
        That paper would be carefully smoothed out, folded and stored with the flattened white boxes, ribbons and bows to be reused.

        1. That’s right. As a matter of fact, I still have two lovely package decorations that went back and forth from person to person for years: white poinsettias and pine cones, made of the finest plastic and sprinkled with glitter. They’re staying with me now, since everyone who passed them has passed on, and if I put them on someone else’s gift, they’d just get tossed. There are certainties in life, and that’s one of them!

  21. Decorated tumbleweed is by far the most exotic natural Christmas *tree* I’ve seen. I’m amazed and amused. Also love Notrees TX. What a name for a town! [Of course I occasionally drive through what used to be called Turkey Bottoms, more of a plain than a town, but still quaintly named.]

    1. Do you have hay bale ‘trees’ in your area? I’ve seen them here now and then: three on the bottom, then two, then one. There had to be a front loader and a good bit of wire involved, but they’re fun.
      As for town names, Texas is full of good ones. Another Panhandle name I love is Levelland; that one’s pretty obvious. One of my favorites is Nada. It’s actually not Spanish, and it doesn’t mean ‘nothing.’ It’s an Americanized version of the Czechoslovakian word najda, or hope. Its original name was Vox Populi, but with only about 150 residents, that voice isn’t very loud.

      If none of those suit you, you always could visit Bug Tussle. That one got its name when a swarm of insects spoiled an ice cream social in the 1890s.

  22. I do love a good Christmas tree–whether cedar, pine, agave or other. We always went down in the woods to cut ours, usually a Scotch pine. The scent! Now, I get so much pleasure from cars with trees tied to the top on their way home.

    1. I’d forgotten about Scotch pines. I think that might have been one of the varieties that made it into our Iowa tree lots, and the scent was marvelous. Given your affection for the car-and-tree combo, I wish I still had one of my Christmas cards to send you!

  23. You’ve captured the true spirit of Christmas with the tumbleweed tale. Reminded me of a now gone friend who years ago when her children were young experienced some sudden unexpected events turning her life upside down. Due to no fault of her own she now had meagre funds but wanted her children to have their usual real Christmas tree. She selected the scrawniest little tree on the lot with a similar price explaining to her daughters what joy this tree would have at finally be selected and made beautiful with decorations.

    1. That’s one of the best tree stories I’ve heard; thanks for sharing it. Your friend was a wise woman, indeed. And who doesn’t feel a little sympathy for the scrawny and misshapen ones? I suspect that’s part of the appeal of the Charlie Brown Christmas story, and the reason replicas of his sad little tree sell so well. Over-the-top glitz impresses in its way, but who feels affection for a sixteen foot tall tree done in decorator colors?

  24. What a fun history of the tannenbaum. I’ve always liked the symmetry and elegance of century plant stalks but never thought it could be harvested and decorated for Christmas.

    1. One of the best things about using a century plant stalk is that the plant only blooms once and then dies back, so taking the stalk doesn’t harm the plant. While they produce seeds and can be grown from seed, they primarily reproduce from suckers; the best way to start one is from one of those ‘pups.’ A dried stalk with its seeds makes a perfect decoration all on its own, but a few bits of glitter always are fun.

  25. Linda, that oil field Christmas tree photo brought a huge grin to my face. Daddy was a consulting geologist, and we still have a picture of “roughnecks” working with one of those devices. I enjoyed this post very much. The agave makes an interesting Christmas tree with beauty all its own. Here, of course, Christmas tree farms abound, and finding the “perfect” specimen isn’t all that hard. I remember, as a child, going to such places and tromping through the snow to find the right one (akin to the Griswolds’ Christmas!) — until we wised up and invested in a more permanent (artificial) solution! And you know, I’m much happier now that needles don’t litter the floor, my nose doesn’t sneeze continuously from the pine resin, and I can sleep at night without fear of the tree going up in flames!

    1. I hoped that someone would find that oilfield ‘tree’ a fun addition, but it didn’t occur to me that it would be you, Debbie. Given your dad’s occupation, of course you’d know about them!

      I’ve had a unique little tree for years. It looks like a double-trunked mountain cedar: one that could have been cut on a Texas hillside. I do miss the fragrance, so I’ve taken to going down to one of the box stores that sells live trees and picking up a few branches from their ‘free’ box. Sometimes people buy a tree and want it trimmed in one way or another to make it ‘perfect,’ so the stores don’t lose anything by letting people pick up the trimmings.

      I’m certainly with you on the pleasure of a dead-needle free floor. Even with the best vacuuming and sweeping, we always were finding needles three months into the new year.

  26. I’m going to have to revisit this after Christmas when things calm down and I can savor. I loved seeing the different options here! We used to have real Christmas trees — in fact, Rick still did till last year when Covid closed our tree lot and we didn’t want to hit the commercial spots. One year my parents and I went out to cut one down. It was not a happy bonding experience — too cold and mom and dad couldn’t agree on the tree and I just wanted to get warm! Rick and I had a more successful experience with that when we took a Japanese family to the tree farm a few years ago! Now all my trees are fake — but they go up in November and come down after Twelfth Night and before Easter so it works out!

    Have a glorious Christmas, Linda, however you spend it.

    1. That’s right — one of the great advantages of artificial trees is being able to keep them up as long as you want. I waffle between Epiphany and New Year’s Day, depending on my mood and how eager I am to get on with the new year. I always hate to give up the pretty lights; maybe that’s why so many people let their holiday lights shine for weeks or months.

      Even though going to the woods — or a tree farm — to cut a tree sounds traditional and romantic and ever so holiday-ish, it’s a tradition that we always skipped. Weather probably was the deciding factor. If we were going to spend time in the cold and snow, we much preferred going uptown to see the store windows and lights (shades of A Christmas Story!) and spent our time decorating the tree rather than choosing it.

      I’m glad your personal tree farm is up and glowing — Merry Christmas to you and Rick!

    1. The good news is that St. Nicholas keeps a low profile, and often shows up where he’s least expected — though whether he could get a tumbleweed in his sack, I can’t say. Merry Christmas, Dina — it ought to be especially fun for Lil’Urchin this year. She’s old enough now to really enjoy it.

    1. I love the agaves. The seeds at the end of each branch are especially attractive, and could serve as ornament enough, but a little glitter and a host of angels never hurts!

  27. There’s a Follen Hill in my town (Lexington, MA) and Follen Church as well, so I read a little further and found that the church and the neighborhood are named for Charles Follen. I go by it all the time, but I never knew the origin of the name, nor Follen’s role in bringing the Tannenbaum tradition. Thanks, Linda!

    1. What fun! And look at this additional bit of local history that Steve G. left in his comment: “Although the Round Hill School for Boys, where Follen originally taught before going to Harvard, is no longer in existence, Round Hill Road in Northampton hosts another famed school, The Clarke School for Hearing and Speech. Formerly The Clarke School for the Deaf.”

      Your experience of recognition — “Oh! So that’s who that’s named for!” — brought to mind these lines from Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

      We shall not cease from exploration
      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And know the place for the first time.

  28. Yes, it was fun and unexpected to discover a bit of the history of my town from your blog. Follen Hill named after the first Harvard German professor, abolitionist, and activist! Adds a dimension to my understanding of a familiar place.

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