Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like when we take this thing apart. (A lot of people ask us about this subject, so I figured you might like to see this.)
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then click here for my other posts about our family’s Weihnachtspyramide (“Christmas pyramid”). This decorated object, which functions like a Christmas tree for my family, has been in our family since the 1880s.
Since this post is mostly pictures, I’ll just put ’em in order and comment on them like a slideshow.
1. Here’s the Santa Claus that goes at the very top. He’s surrounded by a bunch of old glass ornaments and stands on a stiff round piece of cardboard. I have no idea how he is attached to it. (I’m guessing he’s held on with toothpicks and posy clay.)
2. A view of the base of the Santa Claus, so you can see the round piece of cardboard. That hole in the middle is what attaches to the top of the “tree.” Note the cotton wadded up in there: I have no idea what that’s for. Maybe to keep Santa from being too loose and flopping around up there.
3. So Santa Claus gets taken off and put in a box, like the majority of other ornaments. Here, however, is the place where he stands. The little nubbin at the top of the silver-garlanded pole fits into that little hole in his base.
(By the way: To my Schroeder clan readers, take note of the two rounded clusters of crystals—one at the lower edge of the picture, and one with light shining through it on the right: Those are a pair of Great Aunt Minnie’s earrings! Yes! I have no idea how they got associated with the tree, but there you go.) (Memories!)
4. I know that when the “tree” is all decorated and lit up, it’s hard to really “see” the basic structure of the thing. Here it is, though, with all the ornaments (that we take off) removed, and with light shining through.
There are four uprights (one in each corner of the square base), and five horizontal “circles.” At the center of the platform is the music box that spins the center pole (literally a broomstick).
There are two circular platforms on the central pole. The top one is heaped with shiny glass ornaments, and below, it holds numerous other ornaments from threads, particularly ancient glass birds.
The lower platform (these days) is where we put our flock of old sheep (with real wool)—Grandma had taken to heaping ornaments there, too, but we noticed in old pictures of the tree that the sheep were originally here. We reinstated the sheep because (1) we have so many of them, and (2) they are much lighter than the ornaments. “Lighter” is easier on the old music box and overall rickety structure.
5. Here’s a view of the base. This area is called “the garden.” Great-grandpa Thomas, who made the tree, carved the little wooden fence. The Nativity scene goes front and center, just inside the gateway. The bell ornaments above are suspended by the lower platform. The wires you see along the fence are for lighting up the little cardboard houses that go along the sides and back; the mess of wires at the back right is where all of the light strands connect together.
The music box was made by the Lador Company in Switzerland, and it chimes “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” My dad bought it for the tree in the 1950s; before that, the paddles had been turned by a small fan mounted on a nearby window frame.
6. When we cleaned and repaired the tree some years ago, I was amazed to discover details I had never seen before. Here is a view of the underside of the lower platform, which spins like the sky above the Nativity scene. Someone (Grandma?) pasted gold stars on it.
7. Here’s another thing I’d never noticed until about a decade ago—this pretty decoration is wallpapered to the underside of the very top piece. The illustrations are very delicate—holly, pinecones, and (it looks like) birdhouses. No one ever sees this—but here it is.
8. This view of the same thing shows part of the broomstick as it goes through the top wooden piece.
9. Here’s a look at the paddle assembly. Notice that Santa’s been taken off the tippy top. The paddles, I understand, were made from wood salvaged from orange crates. That “very top piece” I showed you in the previous pictures is the wooden board above the fruits and just beneath the circle the paddles are attached to.
10. So okay: Then you stand on a chair (well, at least, I do!) and carefully lift the entire paddle assembly off the top. It’s very lightweight, which is a good thing, because you can’t hold it by the paddles—you can only hold it by the center, with your arm extended parallel to the floor. (I think the paddles are held on with Elmer’s and matchsticks.)
11. Another view of the paddle assembly. Getting this thing through doorways and up the stairway to the third floor is scary, since it has to go sideways yet has all this fragile stuff hanging off of it. And you can’t bang it on anything.
12. I held it up so Sue could take this picture of the attachment area. There are three blunt nails poking out of the bottom. No, they don’t form a perfect triangle, so when you’re putting the paddle assembly onto the tree, you have to get each nail into its own correct hole. (This can get a little frustrating sometimes, because you can’t see, but people in the past have put pencil marks on the outside so you can line the nails up easier.)
13. Here’s an aerial view of the top, minus the paddles. See the three holes the nails go into? At some point, someone inked orange around them the holes. That circle you see is attached to the axle/broomstick, and it spins with the paddle assembly.
Those four—um—tabs?—that seem to come out of the circle actually belong to the top of the tree instead (see 7 and 8 above, which show the underside of this piece). In the center of each “tab” you can see the top of the four upright posts.
14. We’re in the home stretch, now: Once the top is safely upstairs, it’s time to gently pack tissue paper inside the tree, to help protect the elderly bells and so on that dangle in there. However, the tree still tinkles daintily as we carry it upstairs.
By the way, you can see the pattern of beaded garlands pretty easily in this picture. We removed, cleaned, and reattached these when we renovated the tree (and we replaced some strands that had become sadly unpretty). Grandma’s beaded garlands were much more numerous.
15. And then everything goes up in the closet. You know, even the boxes we use for the ornaments are interesting. One is a metal breadbox with a hinged lid. Another is an old box for Hoover vacuum cleaner attachments. And one is a nifty old box for Meister Brau beer from Chicago—probably worth about twenty-five bucks on eBay, don’t you think? (I wonder if that came from Grandma’s brother, Uncle Doodle? He lived in Chicago . . . Or maybe Dad picked it up in grad school.)
And here’s another box of interest. No, I don’t know how this was acquired, and I’m not sure I want to ask!
16. Here’s the paddle assembly, sitting on a platform on a card table at one end of the Christmas Tree Closet, and draped carefully in old bedsheets.
17. And at the other end of the closet is the tree. We swaddle it in a number of old linens: Some old bedsheets that have been mended (yeah, people used to patch bedsheets!), part of an old parachute (I think), and (my favorite) an old smock that my Grandpa used to use for his customers at his barbershop.
When we worked on the tree a decade ago, my mom made a cool little square skateboard that the tree can sit on. With wheels, it moves much, much more easily in and out of the closet. My mom’s got an excellent analytical brain for figuring out better ways to do things. She could have been an engineer.
So . . . that’s the end of the slideshow. I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek at our weird Christmas tree. It’s not every day that you get to see it go topless!