The Electric Color Wheel Christmas Tree

The Electric Color Wheel Christmas Tree

When I was a kid Christmas night meant a trip to my maternal Grandpa’s home for the Cunningham Christmas. A day that usually began well before the sun came up was extended to well after dusk with food, games and gifts as relatives gathered in the farmhouse Grandpa called home.

I had been in this house many times and often our visits took place in the combination dining and living room. Grandpa dwelt there, where his easy chair sat; the television on the opposite wall, a dining table to one side, with a stairway to the upper floor tucked away in the room’s corner. It was in this space that we visited, ate, and shared time with Grandpa – here, and outdoors on the farm itself. But not on Christmas! No, on Christmas we were fancy. This meant we went into the home’s front room, a room largely unknown to my siblings, cousins and I, and gathered round Grandpa’s spectacular aluminum Christmas tree.

Words can hardly do justice in describing this one of a kind wonder of holiday delight. The ornament itself was composed of a white aluminum, fabricated into five feet of tree shaped branches, center stock and stand. As such it was noteworthy, but not wonder worthy. It was only when its companion accessory was added that this tree transformed into something magical. It was the four panel rotating electric color wheel that made all the difference. Positioned directly in front of the tree at a distance and angle sure to engage a premium illuminating effect, this wheel of color (red, blue, yellow, and green) could quite literally transfix a youngster for minutes on end.

In truth, as I now recall, this experience was multi-sensory. The soft hues of ever changing light that made the aluminum shine and sparkle was but one engagement of the senses. The gentle hum of the electric wheel another, calling one to calmness and silent reverence. On top of this was the distinct smell of a flood light, hot with use, from its ever steady work behind the wheel. Sight, sound and smell coming together in a trifecta to put young children in a Christmas trance. You had to be careful and not become a victim of this wonder of the holiday because the combination of an early morning, full Christmas day and electric color wheel would send you to La-La land in no time. I’m sure more than one unsuspecting baby or toddler had been thusly coaxed into a Christmas nap without even seeing it sneak up on them!

The presence of this electric color wheel, flooding light onto my Grandpa’s tree, in his home at Christmas, gave him heroic status in my eyes. I was certain no one else had such a luxurious and exclusive command on Christmas décor. I knew, without doubt, that our family were heirs of something unique, something one-of-a-kind, something without peer status in the world of Christmas trees.

Imagine my jaw dropping, unfathomable astonishment upon discovering otherwise. When in the ritual of dating, at Christmas, my wife and I shared childhood Christmas stories. I listened with rapt attention, knowing I had a story that trumped them all. But when I added my ace-in-the-hole electric color wheel tree story, the surprising reply was: “Yeah, my Grandma had one of those too. Weren’t they cool?”

Who knew? From the late 1950’s until the mid-1960’s they were packing these things out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog shipping department like Amazon ships Christmas today. In fact, listen to this copy from the Sears add:

“Whether you decorate with blue or red balls . . . or use the tree without ornaments – this exquisite tree is sure to be the talk of your neighborhood. High luster aluminum gives a dazzling brilliance. Shimmering silvery branches are swirled and tapered to a handsome realistic fullness. It’s really durable . . needles are glued and mechanically locked on. Fireproof . . you can use it year after year.” – Sears, 1963 Christmas Book

And we did. For as long as I can remember Christmas at Grandpa’s on Christmas night, there was the allure of that electric color wheel Christmas tree flooding the front room with ever changing light, and reminding us of the wonder of the season.

You can buy a modern version of this color wheel on Amazon today for about $80. And I found a couple of 1950’s era aluminum trees for sale on Ebay for around $150. But I don’t think you can put a price on my memory, and furthermore, it’s not for sale.

What’s your special Christmas memory as a child?


Filed under Family, Holy Days

2 responses to “The Electric Color Wheel Christmas Tree

  1. Dan, I know this tree and the wonder that it inspired. Just as you so eloquently described, the tree at my Aunt Norma and Uncle Wilber’s home had the same effect on me. I thought it was the most marvelous, space-age advance in Holiday decorating possible. I was completely entranced every time I saw this tree that dominated all things in their living room. As I recall, they had red shiny balls hung strategically on the branches. The reds would give way to marvelous shades of other-worldly colors as the ever-changing color-wheel bathed the tree in intense brilliance. It was an enthralling experience and I thank you for prompting this warm and wonderful Christmas memory.

    • Jerald: I’ve discovered several baby boomer types who have this similar childhood memory. I guess the marketing for the aluminum tree was pretty successful back in the day. – Merry Christmas

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