Christmas Tree

Last year I learned a lesson about this time. I guess it was a lesson I should already have learned, and maybe I did but at least I should have remembered that I learned it. What am I talking about? I am referring to the highly ceremonial family project of putting the Christmas tree up and trimming it with all the old family favorite ornaments.

In our family the day we put up the Christmas tree marks the beginning of the Christmas season, a highly anticipated time of the year around my house. According to the family history books the tree usually goes up the weekend after Thanksgiving so that all the little ones of the house can maximize their Christmas anticipation. The boys get all the boxes down from the storage in the garage and the girls start pulling out the memories.

For many years, at least for the five years we lived in New England we would make the short drive to the our favorite Christmas tree farm and carefully select our own perfect tree. These were very special years because this was no ordinary Christmas tree farm. Most of you are picturing a farmers field converted to rows of various sized modest Christmas trees but the special place that got our business was really at the top of a mountain and it was simply the magical home of a lovely older couple who were privileged enough to own many acres of pristine mountain land absolutely full of Christmas trees of every size and species.

First, you would manage the one lane road up to their modest farmhouse. Next, Mr. and Mrs. D. would greet you with a warm neighborly smile and offer the parents a cup of hot coffee and the kids a mug of warm milky hot chocolate. After the greetings were exchanged and the tummies warmed, each family got to select a tree saw from the rough-hewn old barn walls and head off skipping down the lane in search of “their” tree. The snow was crisp and flakey, the wind dancing around the trees biting your nose whenever it got a chance but the effort was well worth it.

Liz and Sam would offer many suggestions but mom and dad had the true decision making power. Once all the details were agreed upon, such as “is it tall enough, is it too tall, is it crocked or does it lean one way or another, and even are there any bald spots” a family decision would finally be made and Dad would start sawing it down. Dragging it back up the hill to the car was always exciting the kids loved dancing in the tracks left from the evergreen branches scraping the snow.

After carefully loading the tree and heading home singing Christmas carols we would proudly set the tree up in the living room. Our mission accomplished!

Flash forward a few years. Our family has grown in the most wonderful of ways and now included a rambunctious 10-year-old girl who is so anxious to get the Christmas tree out that she can barely stand it. The oldest, now a grown young woman off at college isn’t here tonight. The son now a nearly gown man almost as tall and strong as his dad is in his last year of high school the parents still loving the simple act of trimming the Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree that is now a prelit artificial tree but it is still ours in every way.

It all happened innocently enough, the timing of the tree trimming had to be delayed from its usual post Thanksgiving weekend due to the sadness that enveloped our little family after the loss of a loved one the week before. We just were not ready to transition into the joy of Christmas when we had everyone home. Hugging Liz as she headed back to school for the final sprint toward the semester end we tried to regroup and re-establish normal.

Several nights later the 10 year old could not stand it any more and whined again at dinner. “When are we going to put up the Christmas tree?”

“Ok, tonight” we all agreed.

We got busy and within a couple hours we were pleased with our results. Pleased until we called Liz back and told her what we’d just done. The tears started on the other end. “Oh no” was all I could think of.

“Mom how could you put up the tree without me?” she cried.

“Mom, it is like I’m just not part of the family anymore” her sad words made me feel miserable.

“Honey, you are absolutely still part of this family, we had to get the tree up Maggie is so anxious she can’t stand it anymore and you know this past weekend was just not the right time. We were all so overwhelmed and sad. I know how busy you are at school right now and I don’t see how you could have come home anytime soon.” I tried to console her.

My lovely almost grown daughter is struggling with her new role as adult. In many ways she is ready to embrace her adult life but occasionally she wants to revert back to our little girl. I understand her dilemma. At her age and point in life it is like having one foot in your new world and one foot in your old little girl world. I felt so bad. I knew how special our little family ritual was to all of us, I just thought she was ready and we needed to stay with the old normal for the sake of our youngest. I honestly didn’t think it was that big of a deal and I certainly didn’t think it would upset her so much. In hindsight, I was wrong and should have at least told Liz about our plans to trim the tree that night.

This year we were able to revert back to our normal history and we trimmed the tree as a family right before Thanksgiving and everyone was here to join in even one of our extra daughters, Christina.

As I sit here this morning enjoying a cup of hot coffee and studying the work of our family I realize the Christmas tree we have created over the years is a true product of our family’s labor of love. We don’t have a decorator style tree with expensive and ornate and carefully coordinated ornaments. Our tree is a collection of handmade school ornaments, such as a reindeer, a stocking with glitter Sam made in 3rd grade, popcorn strings Liz made in Tennessee, and each child’s collection of Hallmark special ornaments. Some of the handmade ornaments are starting to look a little tattered, a few of the store bought ones are missing a part or two but I would not have it any other way. Our tree represents our family and the love we have for each other. It is perfect just the way it is. Sometimes I need to stop and realize that our little family has created many family traditions, and traditions need to be honored.

So my friend, I ask you “what’s next on your list?”

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  1. It seems like our tree gets set up earlier and earlier every year. Last year it went up almost immediately after the funeral, because the tree sits in the same corner that dad’s hospice bed was in and they couldn’t bear to see his corner empty. This year it went up almost as early, before Thanksgiving too. Noah wanted it up as soon as the stores had Christmas decorations on display, I convinced him to wait until after Halloween though.

    I wish we’d done something as wonderful as you guys did in New England, where and when did you live there? What a wonderful memory!