Oh, Christmas tree

I decided that Dad and I needed to have a Christmas tree this year. Not just any Christmas tree but the Christmas tree: The Great Uncle Pius Christmas tree, to be exact.

The tree in question is constructed of glass baby food jars and was made by my maternal Great Uncle Pius 40-50 years ago. He made them for several family members including my Mum and many of her siblings – several of whom proudly display their tree each year.

Sadly, Mum’s tree broke some years ago and was relegated to the storage space under the eves – until I rediscovered it when I was doing chores this summer. And this year, I decided that it was time to revive the tree.

A broken Christmas tree

Because the tree was broken in half, but still connected via strings of lights and sticky duct tape, it was a little awkward to move it around. But I found that placing it on a large bit of heavy plastic helped because then I could slide it to the side of the dining table with ease when we needed the table for, well, dining.

In my mind, I thought fixing the tree was going to be simple: Bring the tree down from the eves, dust it off, glue the two halves together, and job done.

But few things in life are that simple. This means that, rather than being a quick task that took an hour or two, it became a multi-day ordeal. (Although ordeal makes it sound more painstaking than it was.)

To start, I cleaned the glass jars with a wet towel, removing the years of dust that had settled. Then I set about taking off the old glue – some of which needed a little more coaxing with alcohol wipes and a scraper. I also had to remove the decorative beads from the front of the tree as the strand had broken and a bit of it was lost (probably somewhere in the eves).

Dust has settled onto the branches

It was then that I noticed the tree was missing a jar. I expect that the jar (or “branch”, if you will) is hiding in the eves somewhere. However, I felt the search for it would take too long so opted to search in the grocery store for the right size and shape jar instead – not knowing how much baby food jars may have changed over the years.

Thankfully, I found that there was little change to the size and shape of the jars. So whilst this replacement jar is slightly shorter than the originals, you would have a hard time noticing that once the tree is put together.

I had to use pears to re*pear* the tree

The biggest struggle in reviving the tree was determining what kind of adhesive to use. Dad and I talked about different options from hot glue or epoxy to super glue or gorilla glue. A Google search suggested that there is a specific kind of super glue for glass, so we went in search of that.

We ended up with some heavy-duty gorilla glue mounting tape, which I tested using two old, pickled vegetable jars. However, the tape is meant for vertical use which meant that moving or trying to flex the jars in one direction seemed stable but, in another direction, there was far too much give. To remedy that, I placed the mounting tape in alternating directions with the hope that it would provide extra stability.

The next task was to turn the tree over so that I could tidy up the back. The string of Christmas lights was secured with strips of duct tape which had become quite tattered and tacky over the years. So, I carefully removed all the old tape before replacing it with new, strong black duct tape. There is still a fair amount of sticky residue left from the old tape, but it will just have to stay because it wasn’t for budging!!

This was the messy, sticky part of the job

Once the tree was glued (or rather, taped) back together, I set about replacing the beads. We opted to use some of Mum’s old Mardi Gras beads in alternating strings of red and gold. We also discussed adding some small baubles to the tree but decided that the beads, garland, and lights were enough – anything more would just be more.

Frustratingly, as soon as I picked up the finished tree to admire my work, the bottom row of jars broke away along with the base of the tree. I think the ridged nature of the very old glue made it inevitable, as the tree isn’t made to be handled as much as I was handling it during the repair process. That meant that I had to set it aside for another day, after which I removed the old glue then added alternating strips of mounting tape to finish the tree – again.

Once the tree was finished, we placed it atop the secretary (a piece of furniture made by my maternal great-grandfather) and plugged it in.

The Christmas Tree, with lights

And now, the Christmas tree glows softly, and it makes me happy. I am happy because I was able to bring a piece of family history back to life. I am happy because I know how much Mum would enjoy seeing her beautiful tree set up in the living room once again. And I am happy because I know that, one day, one of my sisters will get to become the caretaker of this tree and I know that it will bring them much happiness, too.

Of course, I wish I could have the tree as part of my decorations. But I live in Scotland and would need to take it apart to replace the lights for it to work over there. Instead, I have taken photos and written up some notes for the process so that I can make my own tree for future Christmases. I am really looking forward to that!

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