Yesterday, I spent the day uprooting, pulling down, cutting up and disposing two spruce trees on our property. During that time, I felt a bit melancholy, thinking of my hometown in Corry, Pennsylvania and our Annual Christmas Tree burn.
In High School I hung out with a few friends who did not drink or party. That does not mean we didn’t get into trouble. During our Sophomore year, late at night on New Year’s eve, when most people were waiting to welcome the new year, we lurked around the neighborhood. A week after Christmas, most people threw out their dead Christmas trees near the curb, waiting for the city to pick them up. We gathered as many trees as we could find and piled them up at the junction of Fredrick Street and Wayne Street. We lit them up. I could not believe how fast they burned and how high the flames flew. Fortunately, there was nothing nearby to catch fire, but it shocked and frightened me to see such a blaze. In spite of the darkness, the flames illuminated the area as if it were day. At the height of the inferno, a car driving north on Wayne Street could not pass so it stopped and I will always remember the look on the face of the driver.
In the years thereafter, we made this an annual event. Even after we all left for college, we would return home for the Annual Christmas Tree burn. We learned from the first event that we needed to find a wide-open space. So, we burned the trees at playgrounds, football fields and elsewhere, always finding a different spot in the city to throw off the police. A few of the events evoked a response from the Fire Department, so the police gradually caught on. Instead of partying at the police station, they started patrolling the city around 11 PM. The event concluded one year when a police officer spotted five or six of us dragging a dozen trees through the snow. He asked us what we were doing. We didn’t know what to say, so we told him . . . we were dragging Christmas trees through the snow. The kind officer didn’t make a big deal of it. He simply told us to put the trees back where we found them. That ended a beautiful Christmas tradition.