What kind of traditions does your family have? Or do you have any? It’s always interesting to hear what my friends did growing up.
In my family, we had several traditions. Nice ones, in my opinion. These centered around certain things: gifts, food, entertainment, the tree, and, well, miscellaneous (some things you just can’t categorize…which drives the OCD librarian in me nuts!). I’ll break this up into a few posts, to keep it manageable.
We always cut our own tree. Always. And we were often the last family on the block to have our tree up, as we’d wait until two weekends before Christmas to go get the tree. We’d bundle up and head out as a family either on Saturday or Sunday afternoon to a local tree farm and find the perfect tree. After one of us (Dad when we were young) crawled on the ground to cut the tree down, we’d carry it back to have it shook (pine needle shower!) and bagged (netted?) and tie it to the top of the car with the trunk facing front for aerodynamics and so the wind didn’t harm the branches. We always used the same blanket for this…a striped picnic blanket. I still have that blanket in the back of my car, and it still has pine sap on it, despite the repeated washings. While we waited, there was hot cider or cocoa to drink and things to see or animals to pet and play with. Sometimes there were local crafts to look at (and buy if desired). We often got different types of pine, but it was always the same routine, no matter where we lived. One year we found a tree whose cones were still attached. They had opened, releasing their seeds, but the cones held on instead of falling. We tied little red ribbons around the top of each cone, effectively turning them into nature-made ornaments.
We’d get the tree home, and put together the stand and get the tree up. This involved my sister, Mom and myself standing in three different places around the room checking to make sure it was straight and Dad holding the trunk and somehow not losing his patience with us all three giving him directions at once. Mom spread an old sheet down first, to catch some of the needles. This sheet would eventually be hidden by the tree skirt, but for the first few days the tree stood, undecorated so it could relax and acclimate, in the living or family room with an old sheet beneath it. It looked a bit undignified, but the house smelled fantastic. There’s nothing like a fresh tree.
Part of the reason we got our tree so late is so that it would last the full 12 days of Christmas. It never came down until that 12th day, when the 3 magi arrived at the manger. This is Janurary 5th. So our tree may have gone up later than everyone elses, but it stayed up long past when everyone took theirs down. I remember the Christmas tree carnage up and down the street, usually around the 1st of the year.
Once the tree had relaxed and become acclimated to the warmer house, the decorating began. This was usually a few days after the tree arrived. Dad put the lights up, atleast 3 strings, covering every inch of the tree with little lights. There were never blinking lights in our house…they gave us all headaches and tormented the cat and dog.
Then came the ornaments. Ornaments in our house were special. Each year my sister and I got to pick out a new ornament, representing something from the previous year that we did, an important event, or an interest/hobby. We each had our own box, and we’d pull out the ornaments one by one and line them up in chronological order. Mom had stuck little lables to the bottom of each one with our first initial and the year (if it wasn’t on the ornament) to keep them separated. It was fascinating to look at them over the years and see how our interests had changed, or not as the case may be (three years in a row I chose ornaments involving a swing). The purpose behind this tradition of an ornament every year was simple: this way my sister and I would have enough ornaments to decorate our own tree when we moved out on our own. As we got older, some years involved two or three ornaments. Often we’d start a series from Hallmark and continue to get the series but still get a separate ornament for the year. My mom and dad each had their own ornaments to add to the tree as well. As did our “adopted” family member, Marjean. She spent every Christmas with us, and had her own ornaments and stocking.
The result of these many different collections of ornaments was a very eclectic and colorful tree. When we were younger and didn’t have very many, we had the traditional ornaments (balls and snowflakes) to fill in the gaps, but by the time we were both in high school we often had trouble finding space for all of our personal ornaments. We never had themed trees. Well, I guess our tree was a theme…it showed how while we were all very very different, we could come together and despite our differences make something beautiful. I loved looking at our tree and seeing each of us represented on it.
Last came the tree topper: a brass 3-D star. It wasn’t solid, but rather two flat stars that slid together to form the 3-D one. It was all intricately carved out and the lights reflected off of it beautifully. Since my sister was born in an odd year and me in an even year, we’d trade off who got to put the topper on (with Dad’s help, of course); even years it was me, odd years it was her. [A very simple way to prevent fighting, no? Mom used this even/odd trick for all sorts of things, including chores like dishes.] With animals, other tree “finishers” like popcorn chains were out of the question. And we weren’t a garland family, but we used to do icicles (those plastic silver metallic things you had to separate and drape individually over branches that static clung to everything), until the year we found out they could kill our pets. Not to worry, this wasn’t found out the hard way, but rather via the news.
It’s funny, I’ve been out of the house for over a decade now and yet I still continue the tradition of getting a new ornament every year. I have a little mini fake tree (3 feet) that I put up, so now I have not only a collection of regular sized ornaments, but mini ones as well. It even has a mini version of our star tree topper that my mom found one year. My tree, small or large, continues to be eclectic, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.