No More Christmas
It is with great sad news that today, I bring you sad news. Normally this statement precedes some sort of subversion of expectations, and the so-called ‘news’ in question ends up being frivolous, but not this time. No, we’re witnessing the end of an era—the end of a great source of joy and holiday fulfillment. In fact such news could be akin to hearing about a death, except for the fact that I would have far less pangs of sadness in that scenario.
Whatever are we talking about? Well, only the closing of all Christmas Tree Shops. ALL shops…
A few weeks ago, I had heard about some of the stores closing, and I chalked it up to be some sort of downsizing effort in order to consolidate underperforming locations. I did get somewhat worried when I also heard that the iconic flagship store was going away, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked into my local one and saw this sign:
Thirty-eight years seemed like a lot. In fact, it felt like it had always been there, and then I realized that timeframe coincided to exactly when I moved here. So it had been around for the duration of my residence. Walking in was a sad sight, seeing half-bare shelves and employees putting up the few remains, ultimately for the last time. And the bitterest pill is the knowledge that Halloween décor would be out and about within a few weeks from now. Such injustice.
I suppose they’re not alone. A great many business have folded in the past few years. Those that didn’t close during 2020, ended up with what I call ‘economic long covid’, where the death spiral was too strong to pull out of and just took a few extra seasons to manifest.
I do wonder what will happen to Store #1. Located at the entrance to Cape Cod, it’s a grand building with patchwork stone walls and topped with a thatched roof. Towering over it, a wooden windmill completes its iconic look. It was even popular enough to have a commemorative ornament made a few years back. I almost missed out on it, but snagged one of the last. I realise now that people in fifty years will wonder what on Earth the reference is.
My hopes for going in one last time were cut short when I stopped by over the weekend and saw the vast emptiness inside. It had been about ten years since I went inside, but little did I know, that would be the last. I snapped a few pictures outside and went on my way.
The local branch is still open, and no one could give me much indication as to how long they will be open. There’s sale signs everywhere, but it’s all still at 10% off at the moment. They only recently got the news, so I’m hoping for a bit of longevity. That said, whatever is left, isn’t really commanding my attention. I’m not in the market for summer lawn chairs. I wanted the big holiday stuff.
But rather than dwell on the present, let’s wallow in the better days of the past, and detail five of my favorite Christmas Tree Shop memories. Yeah, we’re finally doing a top countdown on this site. Let’s jump in…
1) Kindergarten Workbooks - 1985
I guess I never realised that the store was relatively new when I moved here. Anything that is currently in operation when you find it, tends to feel like it’s been there since time began.
Being five when I first stepped foot in a Christmas Tree Shop, I wasn’t really a customer per se, but rather an unwilling participant. Around this point, times were tough, and my parents were floating a new mortgage in addition to the one on the old house, which still hadn’t sold at that point. Nevertheless, school was approaching, and they wanted to get prepared.
I remember them picking up a stack of workbooks covering the basics like Math and Language Arts. I also recall the covers having the portrait of a girl whose face was slowly dissolving into a mosaic. It was sort of creepy. I’m unsure whether or not I actually finished them, or even attempted filling any of the pages out. I’ll be honest, I had a rough time with school. It wasn’t so much the material, since I was one of the three in my class who could already read, but I just didn’t understand even the basic concept of school as an institution.
I mean, I understood what school was, but somehow it didn’t really click. I didn’t comprehend why an adult, who wasn’t my parent, was telling me what to do. I didn’t understand why they asked me to spell ‘cat’ and ‘dog’ since that seemed like an absurd and rather trivial request. I was five, and they were a million years old from my perspective. Didn’t they know how to spell such simple words? Seems a little ridiculous, no?
2) Halloween Masks - 1991
I’m sure many of us have experienced something similar, the point at which Halloween just doesn’t hit like it used to. For some, it may be an adult thing where you look back on your youth, but I remember feeling this way starting around age 11 or so. And while it certainly got worse towards adulthood, this initial taste of growing up wasn’t easy to process.
I think it stemmed from the comprehension that ghouls and ghosts weren’t floating around the world, ready to destroy reality as you knew it. One of these days, I’m going to get to my top Halloween moments, but one that stood out was during a school sponsored haunted house. Someone sat in a coffin, pretending to be dead, and then suddenly started reaching for me. My dad was holding me at the moment, and I kicked him, ensuring that I would have no more siblings, and booked it out into the main lobby.
Such primal thrills only phase an innocent mind, and by middle school, they were no more. That was until I found a bunch of rubber masks during a CTS visit. Now I really don’t know why, but these felt like they reignited Halloween. My internal monologue said, “Halloween is scary again,” which still makes no sense to me today. I’m not going to complain though, since it allowed me a few more years of fun before real life took over, and it wouldn’t be until decades later that I started making toy skeletons talk in a web-comic, at which point things got good again.
So was there something about these masks that stood out and made them rescue my childhood wonder? No, not really. They were the latex ones you can get at every drug store these days, and I can still smell the powder inside that kept the rubber from sticking to itself. I picked up several in anticipation of wearing a different one for all upcoming trick-or-treating events, certainly overestimating how many more years I could get away with hitting the streets for free candy.
The masks did serve me well, and I indeed wore many of them for the next few years. Even a decade later, they found new use in home movies, specifically my Zombie series, which was anything but serious. Sadly, and oddly, they began to self-destruct around that time. I’m not sure why they spent the better part of ten years with no degradation, then without any notice turned into goo. The heat of the attic was certainly no help, but they had been there for most of their life. It’s one of life’s great mysteries I suppose.
3) Talking Skeleton - 2001
One thing to note about CTS—the holiday items are on display ridiculously early. By the time Halloween is still a month away, most of the spooky things are on deep discount while Christmas trees and nutcrackers encroach upon their territory. It forces you to shield your eyes as you shop, as to not ruin mix season prematurely.
So naturally, by mid-July all sort of ghoulish décor was out and about—one standing out among the rest. It was a near life-size skeleton, but just not any ordinary skeleton prop. This one was could talk—wirelessly at that! It wasn’t too expensive, but somehow still included a decent microphone and a wireless receiver. The jaw would move to the audio, and its eyes would glow red.
I actually bought two, which was fortunate, since I now have a story to tell. My friend’s birthday was around this time, and he was home from college for the summer. While he was at work, my brother and I went to his house, his father let us in, and we set up the skeleton in the living room.
Upon getting home, the first thing he saw was the figure sitting in the far recliner. As he got closer, we started the Happy Birthday Song—ignoring all royalties and such—before making our ultimate appearance. He thought it was a recording, but also wasn’t really sure what to make of it. We were in our 20s too, so now he had to find a home for this skeleton somewhere. The experience was worth it though. They we opened gifts, which were equally weird, like packs of subtraction cards that were wrapped in layers of paper so they started out being the size of a small child.
I do still have mine. I named him Aylmer after the creature from Brain Damage. The string puppeteering his mouth broke several times, and by Halloween 2002, it just failed to function when I brought it to work, hoping to cast unseen voices around the office. I did win the pumpkin contest that year though.
4) Christmas Snowman - 2002
That same Fall of the failed Halloween caper, I was still trying to be somewhat sociable at work. I’ve since recovered from such lapses in judgment, but at the time my naïve mind was somewhat open to human interaction. So for Christmas, I decided to get everyone in the office some sort of decorative knick-knack—nothing expensive hence why I ended up at CTS once again. Whenever you can fill your cart for no more than $40, it proves to be a useful option.
I grabbed an assortment of things, mostly winter-themed figures made out of a mystery material that is somewhere between plastic and plaster. 99% of everything there is made of this, and I guess it keeps costs down, but they sure to chip and scratch easily. Sifting through the display boxes hunting for unscathed remnants is a process made worse by the ionically attracted Styrofoam pebbles that were once used to protect them en-route and don’t want to part so easily despite failing at their initial objective.
There was sort of another motive for my actions, and it wasn’t purely Yuletide cheer. There was a girl out in the factory that caught my eye. I figured a gesture would break the ice, but since I was thoroughly retarded in such matters, the most logical course of action would be to buy something for everyone in the entire company. If it hit its mark, then all the better, and if it didn’t, then I feign ignorance and the gift-giving blends into the general holiday spirit.
I labeled each of the items with a thin-tip Sharpie the size of a heroin needle, but a problem arose. I didn’t know her name. I tried wandering around aimlessly, hoping to overhear conversations and get a clue. At one point, I thought I heard a name, but then didn’t know how to spell it. As Christmas approached, I figured an unlabeled figurine was better than nothing. At no point did I think to ask anyone, but that just shows the vast divide between my desire to be social and *actually* being social.
Then, as luck would have it, she ended up moving to the front office. Being in IT, I had the network account onboarding documents sent my way to get computers set up and such. This allowed me the final piece the puzzle and I was able to make it personalized mere days before the time I was to hand everything out.
So the question remains…did I get the girl? Well the 20th anniversary is in a few months, so…
5) Halloween Countdown – 2019
I had some other thoughts initially, but we’re clocking in at 2,000 words already, so time to button it up. I’ll end on the stuff I use for my annual Halloween Countdown here at E/N. The loss of CTS will be a noticeable vacancy in my options when it comes time to buy random stuff to display once online and then forever litter my office. Can’t say that I hate being surrounded by various shades of orange and black, but at some point you run out of room.
I’ll still have Target and Walgreens for the small stuff, even if it’s all corporate shovelware. I’m not kidding myself that the CTS wares were anything other than stuff churned out of China, but it still felt like an independent shop offering something unique.
So farewell Christmas Tree Shop, and thanks for nearly four decades of memories.