Playing with Fire

Starfoxy continues her turn as cheap Holiday labor at BCC.

Several years ago while I was still living at home my sister was able to come and stay at our parent’s house for the whole winter break. This sister has what may be called an unhealthy affinity for flame, and that year she finally convinced my mom to let her do something that I’m certain she had dreamed of for years. My mom finally agreed to let her burn the Christmas tree.

On boxing day she eagerly cleaned the ornaments off the tree, took the tree outside, and leaned it against the side of our house. I was (grudgingly) helping her with all of this and saw the look of glee on her face as she informed me that she intended to let it ‘cure’ for a week or so.

I have memories of going with this sister to the empty fields near our house with a string of (illegal) firecrackers and various things to blow up (Katsup packages, hardboiled eggs, etc.). Once she took an entire box of kitchen matches, spent an hour or so carefully tying them all together in a bundle and then lit it just to enjoy the five seconds of flash. It would figure that we would live in Arizona, where fireworks and firecrackers are illegal, campfires are heavily restricted, and wildfires run rampant every summer leading to strict regulations on when and where fires may be burned. I wonder how my sister would have been different if she’d grown up somewhere else, like in England, where Bonfire Night was a regular occurrence.

The first Friday in January she informed me that she was going to be burning the tree that night. I had a date with some friends, and managed to convince them to come and watch. When the time came my sister ceremoniously carried the tree to the middle of our barren backyard and propped it up between two cinder blocks. While my sister placed bits of starter log throughout the tree, my mom set up the garden hose, more for her own comfort than for anything else.

My sister excitedly asked if we were all ready, then lit the tree with the lighter she always carries with her. It sputtered, and a little flame could be seen, just barely through the branches. After a few moments one of the guys suggested she light it again, the girl he was with complained that she was cold. My sister just laughed.

Before we had time to really notice the flame was much bigger. Then it was huge, and we all had taken several steps away from the tree. Not even a minute later the tree was completely lost inside of a 30 foot pillar of flame that illuminated the entire group. My mom was shaking her head, my friends stood in awe, and my sister was nearly bouncing up and down with excitement. For a brief moment I wondered if someone would see our pillar of flame and call the cops then decided that it was worth the risk. The flame itself was a beautiful glorious white all the way through. For a few brief moments I imagined that this was what seeing an angel must be like, and that was why they always had to say “do not fear!”

As quickly as it started it was over. The flame melted away leaving a smoldering skeleton of a Christmas tree behind. One of the guys in the group broke the silence with “That was awesome!” Before I left with my friends, My mom took the opportunity to inform us that the moral of the evening was to ‘water your Christmas trees well, inspect your Christmas lights carefully, dispose of the tree properly when you’re finished with it, and don’t play with fire!’ Moms can never let a teaching moment go by unnoticed.


  1. Good for your sister! Even better for your mom who indulged her child’s imagination.

    We played with open fire a lot. During St. Martin’s parade there would regularly be a child who would burn his or her lantern. My mother would always force us to share one of ours. It took a couple of years before we got that point.

    One last point for you Yankees: thou shalt not take down the tree until the last day of Christmas, which is January 6.

  2. My dad always burned our tree. But he chopped it up first, and put it in the fireplace.

  3. Not even a minute later the tree was completely lost inside of a 30 foot pillar of flame that illuminated the entire group.

    That does sound awesome. I’d watch too.

  4. Fire…he he he…fire!

    Makes me want to burn our tree.

  5. For the better part of a decade, our family has done something similar, but we wait until new year’s eve. In the most recent years we have loaded the tree with several gross of bottle rockets and other sundry fireworks (my parents live in rural MO, where all such festivities are legal). With a small dash of gasoline at the base, the siblings step back and light the tree by unanimously aiming roman candles at it. It is beautiful.

  6. The scouts in our ward collect everyone’s old Xmas trees for disposal. Then they take an overnight trip out into the desert, make a huge pile of them and light them all on fire. They intersperse fireworks into the pile. Makes for some great “Brother-So-and-So got lit on fire again” stories.

  7. Plastic tree, all the way. Less Vacuming needed.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    A fun post, P.

    When I was YMP we had a young man who was fascinated by fire. Whenever we had our ward campout, he was in charge of the bonfire. He was very thoughtful about it and set it up like an engineer so with just one match it would roar into leaping flames. I was actually quite impressed with his passion and knowledge concerning fires (and we also often joked about it).

  9. Matt (#7), yes, but a fake tree is hardly as entertaining when lit on fire.

  10. Steve: Why buy a tree, when you can just go to Church?

  11. My first Christmas back from college, a bunch of high school buddies and I went around the neighborhood collecting trees others had set out after Christmas was over. We took them to a golf course, and with a little boost from gasoline, had quite the bonfire. This time, though, nobody burned.

  12. While investigating adoption, the counselor at the agency mentioned one candidate and asked whether we’d be bothered by a fire starter. I asked how big a fire and she sweetly answered that it depended upon how soon we found it.

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