Oh Christmas tree …

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 20, 2004

It begins life as a tiny seed no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.

In seven years, it can grow taller than the individual that planted it - with the proper care and a little bit of luck.

No one knows for sure why people began embracing the evergreen and bringing it into their homes. Whether to celebrate the Savior's birth or the Winter Solstice, many theories exist. But like that little pine seed, the Christmas tree legend continues to grow.

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What is sure is that its fragrant branches hold so much more than shiny bulbs and tinsel; they carry the traditions passed down from generation to generation.

"When I was little, our parents made us go to bed early and they would put the tree up on Christmas Eve," Marlene Koenig of Ironton said. "When we woke up, all of the presents would be under the tree waiting for us. It was magical. I believed in Santa Claus until I was eight."

Now grown with children and grandchildren of her own, Marlene set out to find the perfect tree for her home. She found it at Dickess Christmas Tree Farm Wednesday, nestled among hundreds of other trees on the farm's rolling 120 acres.

Of course, getting it into the trunk of her sedan and then getting it to squeeze through her family room door were anything but easy on that bitterly cold day. However, the effort seemed to pay off when the stately 7-footer rose in all its pungent glory, bedecked with brightly colored lights.

"I didn't think it was that big out there (at the farm)," she said chuckling, her face lit by the soft glow of Christmas bulbs.

As she sorted through her collection of ornaments, memories came pouring back of holidays recent and those long, long ago.

"This is one of the first plastic ornaments made. I got it when I was seven," she said, holding up a delicate iridescent orb.

The dainty ball was quickly followed by angels, hobbyhorses, snowmen, stockings, teacups and Hallmark Keepsake ornaments all lovingly wrapped in paper.

Many came from students - gifts Marlene received during her 21 years of teaching on the elementary and adult basic education levels in Lawrence County as well as in her home state of Illinois.

But among the most treasured were decorations made by Marlene's grown sons, Steven and Paul. Of course, the tiny hands that constructed those fanciful holiday trinkets have matured considerably as evidenced by family portraits lining the shelves.

Both sons now live far from where William and Marlene Koenig have made their home in Ironton for the past 30 years. But the memories of Christmas trees past live on in Marlene's mind.

"When the boys were smaller, tinsel was really popular, so it was their job to put it on the tree," she said. "Now they ask me why I let them do that because it always looked so ugly and clumpy."

Although fads come and go, the artificial look is not going to take over any time soon at the Koenig home where live trees have always held a special fascination.

"I won't say neverŠbut I'll probably keep doing this until I can't get it through the door," Marlene said. "I've never had an artificial tree except for that little one on the piano."

Although Marlene's family won't be making a visit to see this particular tree, the miles that separate them until Christmas are easily overcome with the telephone.

"My little granddaughter in Colorado calls me and says 'Grandma, I'm making you a present' and I say 'I can't wait.'"

But for Marlene, it's better to give than to receive.

"I've always liked Christmas," she said. "It's my favorite holiday. I don't care if I get anything. I just like to buy for others."

Since she'll be traveling to see family, the decorated beauty standing tall in Marlene's family room was her present to herself.

"Truthfully, the Christmas tree is what I enjoy most during the holidays. It just lightens your spirit," she said.