Friday, December 25, 2009

Fruit Baskets for Christmas

One of the best things about having a hundred-year-old Christmas tree in your living room is that its decorations inform you about what was precious to our ancestors, to the people of the past. I find this intriguing as well as instructive.

At some point during the holiday season, I find time to sprawl out on the sofa and gaze quietly at the Weihnachtspyramide glowing across the room, and reflect on the themes and symbols it carries—for instance, the Knecht Ruprecht and all that he signifies, and so on.

As you might already know from previous posts, I’m keen on fruits, raw fruits. I love their colors, their flavors, their freshness. Spring fruits, summer fruits, autumn fruits, tropical fruits, wild, cultivated, all of ’em.

I delight in the fact that we here in America can procure just about any kind of fruit there is, at any time of the year. This is so wonderful it’s almost appalling. It’s unnatural. It’s Roman in its decadence.

But I’m not complaining; I glory in the availability of such wonderful edibles, and I’m confounded by anyone who can’t agree—those people who “don’t like” fruits, vegetables, and so forth.

When my grandparents were children during the early 1900s, favorite Christmas gifts included candy, nuts, and fresh fruits. It was the same for my parents’ generation, for they have told me how much they appreciated getting an orange on Christmas.

An orange!

I sit on the sofa in the golden glow of that tree and think of oranges in wintertime, during the cold days, long nights, with meals of meat and potatoes, cabbage, and canned green beans. Sauerkraut, if you were German. And anything else preserved, home-canned, particularly during the Depression. All that fresh stuff from the garden in summer? Gone. No longer fresh—in winter they’re all pulled out of a Mason jar. All winter long.

So to have an orange—a zippy, luscious, fresh, bright, juicy orange—on Christmas morning? Exotic, tropical, something from Florida! It would taste like candy, wouldn’t it?

Some of the oldest ornaments on the tree are miniature woven baskets filled with fruit, or shiny glass balls that look kind of like fruit. One of these has most of the “shine” worn off of the balls, but we leave it as it is.

One of the baskets is full of strawberries—plastic (or really some precursor of plastic).

Some of the old fruit baskets appear on our earliest pictures of the tree, such as this one from 1915.

At the very top of the “pyramid” are clusters of fruits—pears, peaches, grapes, citrus, and so on. Some are quite old; some are newer. Grandma was always ready to add more fruit ornaments to the tree. I guess she never really got it out of her head that fruits are precious, valuable, special gifts from the earth.

Fruits please us and nourish us. They’re nature’s original sugar, humankind’s first candy. I can’t take them for granted, either.

Merry Christmas, everyone, Merry Christmas.

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