The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree

The_Tinsel_Free_Christmas_TreeBertha and Alfred, married for twenty years, enjoy a truly science fictional life in the twenty-first century. But in spite of all the technological marvels surrounding them, an argument about how to decorate the Christmas tree escalates and threatens their marriage.

This parodistic piece is a mundane short story of 2900 words or approximately 12 print pages, written in the style of science fiction’s “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s.


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Some background information:

  • The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree is a short story of 2800 words and part of the series Alfred and Bertha’s Marvelous Twenty-First Century Life. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • This story was written in response to the Not Really SF Short Story Challenge by writer E.P. Beaumont. The idea was to write a completely mundane short story in the style of science fiction’s “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s, complete with clunky overexplanation of every single piece of technology with which the characters interact.
  • The challenge was a response to complaints by some more traditionally minded science fiction writers and fans that science fiction had been invaded by literary writing and that the virtues, values and scientific rigour of science fiction’s so-called “golden age” had been forgotten. In response, E.P. Beaumont proposed launching a counter invasion of literary fiction by science fiction.
  • The other stories in the Alfred and Bertha series story borrow their plots from classic 1970s comedy skits by the brilliant German comedian Vicco von Bülow a.k.a. Loriot. The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree contains some references to Loriot’s classic skit Weihnachten bei den Hoppenstedts (Christmas at the Hoppenstedts), though the plot is my own.
  • The neighbour son Ricky Hoppenstedt was taken from the Loriot skit (where the kid is named Dickie), while the Build your own particle accelerator kit Ricky receives from Alfred is an updated version of the Build your own nuclear power station kit from the original skit. I do hope it is less accident prone than the Build your own nuclear power station kit.
  • Bertha’s worries whether Ricky will manage to create a micro black hole in his particle accelerator are a reference to these much publicised worries which surfaced when the Large Hadron Collider was first switched on.
  • Alfred’s preference for tinsel and his lament that there used to be so much more tinsel in times of old is yet another reference to the Loriot skit, where Grandpa Hoppenstedt laments that “there used to be much more tinsel”. The background of the story is that tinsel has become unpopular in recent times and is now considered rather tasteless and old-fashioned. Though the Loriot skit suggests that the slow demise of tinsel dates back at least to the 1970s. And indeed, my mother is more vehemently opposed to tinsel than me.
  • Tinsel used to be made of something called Stanniol in German, which is a mixture of tin and lead foil. Tinsel containing lead was banned in the US in 1972, but in Germany it continued to be available until fairly recently. The last German factory that still produced tin and lead foil tinsel ceased production only in 2013.
  • Tin and lead foil tinsel is heavier than its Mylar (a.k.a. biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate) counterpart and is prized among those who like old-style Christmas decorations.
  • The wine that the Hoppenstedts give Bertha and Alfred is another Loriot reference to the skit Vertreterbesuch (Salesmen’s Visit) where Mrs. Hoppenstedt is visited by several salesmen, including one who sells wines of rather dubious origin and quality, including the Klöbener Krötenpfuhl (Klöben toad pond). An enterprising wine merchant recently offered actual bottles of the wines mentioned in the skit.
  • What is more, Alfred and Bertha’s surname von Bülow was also borrowed from Loriot.
  • Bertha’s Christmas Eve meal consisting of roast goose a.k.a. Anser anser domesticus, red cabbage, potato dumplings and baked apples for dessert is a traditional German Christmas meal BTW.
  • The cover is a stock photo by Wong Mei Teng. I chose it, because it resembles the abstract science fiction paperback covers of the 1960s, even though it’s actually a close-up photo of a decorated Christmas tree (sans tinsel, of course).