I think it was in the summer of 1951 that my mother and father and I moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsyvania to Portland, Oregon, to be close to my mother’s family. That first Christmas in the West we were still staying with my grandmother. The next year, though, both Mom and Dad had found work and rented a nice duplex, and we were back to having our own Christmas tree. None of us suspected the trap that was waiting for us as transplanted Easterners.
Mom and Dad invited some of my aunts and uncles to a little party to help decorate the tree. The eggnog was being passed around, and the uncles, who were uncharacteristically hanging out in the kitchen, seemed to be having a very good time indeed. As most of the ornaments had been hung on the tree, it was now time for the lovely thin strands of tinsel which would finish off the decoration. And one of my little cousins asked, “Can I help put the rain on?” The rain? I said, probably in a snotty tone, that no one put rain on a Christmas tree.
And then the argument began. The thin strands of tinsel that we knew back East as icicles seemed to be called rain in this strange Western city. Of course, icicles belonged on a Christmas tree, but rain didn’t. Wrong, shouted some of the uncles, we don’t have icicles here, but we have plenty of rain! Why not on the tree? My mother tried to keep the peace but soon was outshouted by her brothers, the aunts tried to distract the children from the yelling and started getting their coats on, and all of a sudden the strands of icicles /rain were out of their boxes and flying around, and not in the direction of the tree!
I think it was when some tinsel fell in the eggnog pitcher that the laughing started. Not everyone was mollified, though, and some offended relatives left in a huff, while others helped to clean up the mess. The question of the right name for the tinsel remained a bit of a sore point for years, though, and usually someone would bring it up every Christmas, just to see if anybody would get riled up. As for us, we never used the stuff again.