The Tale of Two Tannenbaums

By Mary Lynne Spazok

When it comes to seasonal décor, who’s to say what’s right or wrong? Centuries ago, early European Druids (ancient mystics of the forest) confined to a dreary sympathetic life over the winter solstice, hung evergreen boughs over doors and windows to ward off witches, deter death, and ensure fertility. Indoors, sprigs of holly and mistletoe were considered magical because their green color never faded. Today, that magic endures through the holiday beauty and aroma of fresh greenery, first and foremost, the Christmas tree.

A lovely decorated tree

The Tale of Two Tannenbaums begins with Mary and Jerry Raupp, married for 47 years, residing in Pennsylvania for a lifetime. At their home in Upper St. Clair, Thanksgiving and Christmas is celebrated in monumental grandeur. Pre-holiday, Jerry proclaims, “I am not doing the “too-tall tree” again this year; too much work!” After rowdy resistance from the kids and grandkids, Black Friday quickly goes green in their house with the debut of a fresh 300-pound, 14-foot Fraser fir.

The first step is retrieving the vast array of decorations and lights from numerous “in house” storage areas. Flip top boxes are emptied of 3000 multi-color lights, 2000 ornaments, and an industrial power cord. Next, Jerry postures the fir in a heavy-duty stand (adding two gallons of water daily) and layers the lights. Mary lovingly reveals each ornament from its packaging. While each tree tells a different story, the collection of ornaments brings memories.

A Christopher Radko design “Happy New Year 2000 Times Square” is a Mary favorite. Fashioned in Europe, the ornament is eight inches high, hand crafted from mouth-blown tempered glass lined with sterling silver. Applied artisan gilding includes vibrant coloration followed by a dusting of glitter.

An ornament to honor our military

Jerry is keen on his authenticated “Kugel.” In 17th-century England, the glass “witch ball” was hung year-round in windows and doors to ward off occultists who were thought to be repulsed by round shapes. On the brighter side, this shiny silver sphere reflected welcome bursts of sunlight and the beauty of flickering candle flames. Germany 1840-embossed brass caps with rings were added, thus fashioning the first engineered Christmas tree ornament, the Kugel.

The first year of marriage for Mary and Jerry was bittersweet. Joyful as the holidays can be, it was also a time of melancholy. You see, Mary’s brother, Bill, enlisted in the U.S. Army. Patriotic, their tree that year stood proud until Bill’s safe return the following March. Ever since, a splendid Fraser is chosen and continues to reflect their life’s challenges and triumphs.

Jerry and Mary Raupp

The big brother to the Raupp’s Fraser is the 75-foot Pennsylvania “Penn State” Norway spruce that made its way to Rockefeller Center in November 2017 to become the most celebrated Christmas tree in the world. First noticed in 2011 by Rockefeller Center’s head gardener Erik Pauze (while enroute to a State College football game), he stopped to knock on the door of the property owner. Straight away, Erik proposed Jerry and Mary Raupp a future starring role for this gigantic specimen. After a six-year period of Pauze’s prudent arboriculture’s management, the 80-year-old titan had come of age. Giant in stature and sentiment (senior years of its life cycle), the Norway was proudly donated.

A rotund 50 feet in diameter, and tall and straight and weighing in at just over 12 tons, the fir was loaded on a 115-foot flatbed, arriving to midtown Manhattan’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza on November 11. Taking one hour to erect the spruce by crane with steel cables and two days for the scaffolding to be built, engineers, carpenters, gardeners, and three electricians orchestrated the colossal undertaking. 

Rockefeller tree, 2017

With more than 50,000 energy-efficient multi-colored LED lights (five miles of wire), 363 eco-friendly solar panels atop Rockefeller Center provide the energy. Its tree topper, a Swarovski star, is 9.5 feet in diameter, 1.5 feet deep, and adorned with 25,000 crystals and one million facets. That magical, twinkling effect is no easy task. Computer software is the secret!

Just before sunrise on day one, a dreamlike tranquility enveloped Rockefeller Center. With few tourists, Pauze embarked to oversee the city’s superstar. Pauze asserts, “At 5 a.m., there’s lots to do! You got the tree. You got the angels. Now you have to make sure the poinsettias are in place. You got to make Christmas look good! With even the slightest rustling of branches, a shower of needles can rain down.” That’s when his backpack blower comes in handy!

On January 7 of each year, this American icon takes repurposing to a whole new level. Offsite, the tree is milled into useful kiln-dried lumber benefitting Habitat for Humanity. Interestingly, the recycled wood is stamped with the words “Rockefeller Center Tree” and the corresponding year.

Habitat recycle stamp

Pennsylvania trees include the Fraser, Douglas, Colorado blue spruce, balsam, Scotch pine, and Eastern white. Planted from seedlings, these noble firs are cultivated and then harvested by farmers on more than 1400 family farms. Behind Oregon, Pennsylvania is the second leading tree-producing state in the U.S. Sales contribute an average annual revenue of $35,400,000. Keystone state conifers are a renewable, recyclable resource, while artificial trees often contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins, including lead.

Handmade ornaments

Live trees absorb carbon dioxide and other toxic vapors, hence deterring any thought of an earth-warming “greenhouse effect.” One acre produces purified oxygen for 18 humans, while an array of ground cover affords pollen for native bees and other pollinators. Decaying stumps harbor insects that are food for nesting birds. Overall, choosing a fresh “green” tree is certainly wildlife friendly.

As the frosty weather of December evolves, holiday decorating can be energizing—a time to deck the halls, sing, and be merry. No matter the size or shape, make your Christmas tree more than a chore this year. Make it a treasured Tannenbaum tradition!

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