item 1 >>> Let’s talk Christmas trees. From the time I learned how to write, I kept lists. Naturally, when the “Book of Lists” came out in 1977, I felt fair well vindicated. But one of the lists I kept was when we put our tree up. It was never earlier than a week before Christmas, and I think the latest was Dec. 23. Most Baby Boomers will find that about right…and I know some of you had the tradition of putting yours up on Christmas Eve. Ours came down on New Years Day, accompanied by a traditional ice cream float, and a Bowl game on TV if Ohio State was playing (my parents’ alma mater.) A tree for 2 weeks seemed plenty…altho we always had an aluminum one, a lot more were real in those days, and you wanna try and keep it fresh for 5 or 6 weeks? Be my guest.

item 2 >>> But here’s the thing, even if you get a real, natural Christmas tree this year, it may still be FAKE! Wha-? you say, and I don’t blame you. The evergreens we use for Christmas trees belong to the Order Coniferales, consisting of about 550 Species, divided into about 50 Genuses. I have to say “about” because botanists are constantly arguing about taxomonical classifications, and what belongs where. And please note that the correct plural of Genus is Genera, but I refuse to go along, sorry. Anyway, 5 of them make up virtually all your Christmas tree choices, unless you’re an odd-ball with a Hemlock, Yew, Juniper, or Cypress.

item 3 >>> …and the Big Five are: (1) Abies…these are the Firs, the most popular choice by far, lead by the Noble, Fraser, Balsam, Grand, and White or Concolor. Everything about Firs is right: the shape, the spacing of the branches, needle retention, and aroma, especially the Balsam.  (2) Pinusthe Pines, always the runner-up, mainly because the needles can be a bit prickly. But they have their adherents, and nothing smells like a pine. Favorites include the Scots or Scotch, and the White.  (3) Picea…not as prevalent as they once were, the Spruces do not hold their needles well, good for a 2-week season, but not 6-weeks… still popular here, more so in Europe. Chief among them, the Colorado Blue, Norway, White, and gaining some traction in recent years, the Englemann and Serbian.

item 4 >>> (4) Araucaria heterophyllaor the Norfolk Island Pine. These beautiful trees are among the most ancient of the conifers. They grow to full size in their native habitat, the islands to the east of Australia. Unfortunately, they cannot tolerate the cold weather of most of North America, so they are grown only in Florida, as house-plants. If you are short on space, a Norfolk Island Pine makes the perfect miniature Christmas tree. But here it starts to get complicated, because despite the name, it is not a real pine. In fact, of those 550 Species of conifers I mentioned, many have “pine” in their official name, others in their common or local name, without being what botanists regard as “true” pines. And that leads us to…

item 5 >>> (5) Pseudotsuga…better known as the Douglas Fir. No, not a “true” fir…over the years, because of its similarities to other evergreens, it’s been classified with the Pines, Spruces, Firs, even Tsuga, the Hemlocks. In fact, its Latin name literally means “false hemlock.” Which is not to take anything away from it as a wonderful Christmas tree…it’s only a “fake” in this narrow taxonomical sense. Honest, I’m not casting aspirations. Douglas Firs rock! I’m just sayin’…

item 6 >>> Yuletide Myth #2…Hemlocks are poisonous. The Hemlock is a very popular tree in Northern and Eastern regions of North America, especially Canada. It is one of the longest living of the evergreens, and can grow to enormous size. It’s prized as a shade tree, and is also cultivated as a weeping shrub. Not good Christmas tree material, as it sheds worse than a Spruce. And friends, it isn’t that Hemlock. Actually, there are several…what’s called “Poison Hemlock,” what killed Socrates, is closely related to parsley, and is a different plant from “Water Hemlock,” a member of the carrot family, but also extremely poisonous. The Hemlock tree is so-named because it’s smell is similar to crushed Poison Hemlock leaves.

item 7 >>> Well, OK…many communities on the North Shore have a “Locust Street,” named after the tree, not the grasshopper, obviously. So which name came first? Well, the Latin word locusta referred to various crustaceans and insects…”lobster” is derived from Anglo-Saxon via Latin. How did the tree become a Locust? There are several kinds, including Honey Locust and Black Locust, and they are native to North America. They were so-named because they reminded explorers of the Mediterranean Carob tree, an evergreen which produces an edible pod that resembles a grasshopper. This is believed to be what St. John ate in the wilderness, also called “St. John’s Bread,” but translated erroneously as “locusts [and wild honey].”  Altho there are some that insist he really did eat grasshopper-type locusts, as they definitely are edible.

item 8 >>> And in this day of pre-lit trees, it’s probably moot, but in case you’re old-fashioned, in 1960 Better Homes and Gardens published a formula to figure out the perfect number of lights for your Christmas tree. Height (in feet) times width (at its widest) times 3. Thus, a 6 by 4 foot tree would need 6 x 4 x 3 = 72 lights.

item 9 >>> Amazing…after all these years I’m still finding new things about the Beatles. I long knew that the first Beatle “novelty” record was a Christmas ditty by Dora Bryan in the UK, Dec. 1963, and more on that tomorrow. But it appears the first American Beatle tie-in record was by an American C&W artist touring in UK, released there first, then here in the U.S. It charted in neither country however,  and it’s of the anti-Beatle variety, along the lines of Allan Sherman’s “Pop Hates the Beatles” and the Four Preps’ “Letter to the Beatles.” Yeah, it’s on YouTube. And see today’s Wicked Ballsy

item 10 >>> And speaking of the Beatles, when are the “Beatles Fan Club Greetings” going to come out on CD? These were sent to “Beatle People” at year’s end on a plastic “flexi-disc”…the kind you had to put on top of a regular disc to play. They date from 1963-1969, altho the first was only available in the UK. A regular LP compilation of these messages was sent to Fan Club Members in 1970, and it’s among the rarest “official” Apple releases…it’s been extensively bootlegged and counterfeited. “Christmas Time Is Here Again,” the closest the Beatles ever got to a real Christmas record, from 1967, was the B-side of “Free as a Bird” in Dec. 1995, and longer versions of this repetitive song have been booted. Merry Krimble and Happy Goo Year!

Wicked Ballsy

The ad on the left is from Billboard Magazine, Feb 22, 1964…also the article on the right, Jan. 11, 1964. You’ll notice he was on “ABC’s Hullabaloo”…remember, that was in the UK, where ABC = the Associated British Corporation, now defunct. Our Hullabaloo was still a year away…

shameless plugsettias…

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Daily blogs at http://stolf.wordpress.com and  https://deepfriedhoodsiecups.wordpress.com

More bloggage at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume and audio samples at http://home.rr.com/mastolfi

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