Wednesday, December 7, 2011

O Christmas Tree

Yesterday I spoke of Christmas traditions that we take for granted and the Christmas tree is certainly one of the oddest.  It began as an outdoor festivity, being decorated in the town square.  Soon, upper class citizens began erecting their own smaller versions in their domiciles, just because they were wealthy enough to do so.  And when the wealthy start a fad, everyone else starts to mimic them.  While it has logical historical roots, it has since evolved into a custom we just do instinctively, for without one, "it wouldn't feel like Christmas."

The decoration of Christmas trees is their main appeal, as neighbors involuntarily "compete" to create the prettiest tree.  Some enjoy decorating with family keepsakes and gifts while others pick a theme and go for style.  Regardless, the end result is alway pleasing to the eye and it gives us a symbol to remind us of the holidays.  But, as with any technique, if it can be done, there is always a way to do it better.  Decorating trees became an art form unto itself, as each decoration represents the unique personality of the designer.

This was the theory that served as the driving force behind the charity auction "Night of 100 Trees."  Beginning in 1982, one hundred trees designed by celebrities from entertainment and sports would be auctioned off to raise money for charities such as "Save the Children."  Throughout the 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic took strong effect, money also went towards research for the disease.  The night itself became an enormous gala, a Christmas party to end all Christmas parties (for the upper class, of course).

Most trees followed the same form of presentation.  A basic (fake) tree was used as a starting point for ornaments and other decorations to bedazzle the plastic plant.  Trees of many colors were created over the many years, and starting in 1986, Jim Henson joined in the action.  Muppety decorations adorned the first tree, and in 1987, Miss Piggy donated her own special arboreal artwork.

Then, in 1988, this guy entered the field:

Meet Spruce Springsteen

Of course a "Muppet Christmas tree" should be a Muppet himself!  The tree base was adorned with Muppet images and art based around current rock musicians (which had appeared in Muppet Magazine) just to remind the owner that this was indeed a Muppet product.  Spruce Springsteen was designed by Sesame Street designer Ed Christie and the base was sculpted by a freelance artist named Karl Wendelin, but a tag was attached with the official Jim Henson signature of approval.

It's legit.

The tiny snowmen roadies that surround the tree are actually repurposed Doozers from Fraggle Rock.  So not only did the recipient get a custom built puppet, they also received a couple of artifacts from a Henson production as a bonus!

Even as a snowman, a Doozer doesn't stop working.

This was the final year Henson's company entered the auction, and the event itself did not last too many years afterwards.  So any tree from that era is truly a rarity.  But of all the trees created for the events, it makes sense that the Henson-sanctioned one would be the most unique and interactive.

Sure, the pun in the name and theme may seem a little silly, but the Night of 100 Trees was supposed to inspire joy and happiness.  The tradition of Christmas trees is inherently ridiculous, but because it has become such a staple of our holiday, they are treated with the respect and dignity of a religious icon.  Leave it to Henson to remind us to loosen up and have fun with your decorations.  At Christmas, everyone deserves a little goofiness.

Tannenbaums like us,
Baby, we were born to run!
(And shed needles on the carpet.)

And just think about all the presents you could fit under this thing!

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