Remembering Aluminum Christmas Trees

When did decorating the family Christmas tree get a bit out of whack? In the early 1960s, that’s when. Up until that time (and I speak from personal experience), the gaudiest decoration to land on the tree was silver tinsel strewn haphazardly across its fragrant green boughs as a last gesture—a finale, of sorts—when the tree was done being trimmed, lighted, ornamented and garlanded to everyone’s content.

But in the heady, post-Eisenhower era of American celebration, the annual tree-trimming tradition—perhaps influenced by the ultramodern furnishings of the Space Age—veered somewhat off the beaten path, lapsing into a strain of decorative folly that, despite the outcome, persisted for a surprisingly long time.

The source of the problem was primarily one of raw materials: the traditional fresh-cut pine or spruce looked and smelled marvelous standing so regally in the family room, with its trunk settled in a reservoir of water, but, on the downside, after a week or so, it dried out and shed needles, posing both a fire hazard and major cleanup challenge.

So Mom and Dad, poring through their Sears, Roebuck & Company Christmas catalog, discovered that the shiny new, lightweight, all-aluminum trees were easy-to-handle, a snap to assemble and—best of all—when the season was over, they could be put away and stored in the attic, ready for the following year.

And—voila!—a trend was born!

After half a decade or so, the hue and cry that eventually went up about how aluminum trees were an insult to the Christmas holiday tradition reached such proportions that demand for them began to wane. In 1965, the popular Peanuts television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” was themed around the commercialization of Christmas, of which the aluminum tree had become a glittery symbol.

With the gradual decline of aluminum trees’ popularity (or, as some people refer to it, when Americans regained their better judgment), one would think they might have died a quiet death. Not so fast, however: the collectors’ market for such festive finery is running strong as holiday punch, and the Internet is littered with “vintage” aluminum Christmas totems. A visit to eBay, for instance, reveals that for a mere $175, you can be the owner of a “vintage 1960s 6-foot silver aluminum 92-branch tree.”

Now that’s the spirit!

Did You Know?

Because aluminum Christmas trees weren’t actually made from solid metal, but, instead, a type of aluminum foil that was tightly compressed, their delicate branches couldn’t bear the weight of lights. To get around this limitation, manufacturers sold tree owners an electric “footlight” that rotated behind the tree, casting red, blue and green from a rotating color wheel.

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