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Each December in the Eisenhower years, Mother would step back from the pine tree in the living room, freshly festooned with silver threads like Spanish moss, and clap her hands in delight. Thus began Christmas in our house. For years after, I treasured the memory of her joy with the tinseled tree, right up to the day when I came across a definition of tinsel, from the word tinselry, and found it meant "a cheap and pretentious display."


Fifty years late, I seethed at the insult to my mother and to my country, where we once laid on thousands of miles of tinsel for the holiday. In no way did we deserve the label of cheap or crass, as back then we struggled to pile beauty upon beauty so we could nudge aside memories of the wars and the Great Depression and polio and McCarthy, at least for one heartwarming month. Knowing the baby Jesus was greeted with gold, we were all certain he would be pleased that we still honored his birthday with ribbons of silver.


Over the course of years, sensibilities evolved to match the dictionary and such adornment of the Christmas tree went the way of fedoras and hosiery. I gradually came to accept this as something other than an affront to my mother, but even to this day the trees look naked to me, a shorn sheep, a bootcamp haircut. The last time I saw any tinsel, it was hanging out of a cat's butt.

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