My father was part of a generation of guys who decorated under their Christmas trees. And I don’t mean a little house or two. Every December, an uncle of mine dragged out the pieces of plywood that went to form a platform under his tree, a platform about eighteen inches high and six feet square. It had to be up off the floor, you see, in order for him to wriggle underneath and attach the wiring for his three train sets and two villages. That scene had, naturally, mountains, a tunnel, and several stations for the trains to stop in. He must have spent weeks setting it up in the evenings after work. (As I remember, he was a butcher in a busy market.) His setup was the most elaborate one I remember among my relatives, but everyone had something.
My father was content with a more modest display. It featured a village, with lots of houses and a steepled church that each had a hole in the back to insert little lights so that they glowed in the darkness under the tree. The surroundings of the village changed from year to year, but the display I remember as my favourite had a ski hill built up on one side, ending in a lake with skaters on its surface. Dad must have found a good source of painted metal figures, because we had lots of them, and I was allowed to position (and re-position) the ones on the ski hill. In addition to skiers, there were several sledders, and the sledders could be lifted off their sleds, so I could have figures tumbling in the snow. I can see them now, the skiers whizzing down the hill in my imagination, turning to keep away from those lowly sledders who nevertheless seemed to be having more fun falling off their yellow and blue sleds.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about Dad’s tree-doctoring skills.