A thought on tradition

As I sit here writing this post on Saturday night, the virtual fireplace roars and pops in all its high-definition glory accompanied by orchestral holiday music that reminds me of classic black and white movies. Thoughts of childhood filter through, though considering I have memories that go back to the age of two, not many of them are of Christmases. Our family often struggled financially, so I expect this commercialized holiday was rather low-key at our house.

My first Christmas memory is of the year I was five and spoiled Santa for my sister. My next memory is of my ninth, when I got my last baby doll—yes, nine. We grew up much slower back in the olden days. The next one I remember specifically, I think I was sixteen. That was the year my mother bought a silver tree. Silver as in aluminum foil! Due to its nature, we couldn’t trim that abomination with our traditional colored lights, so she’d bought the rotating color wheel accessory. I detested that tree. It took its presence as a personal offense. To this day, I blame that misguided experiment for inciting my slavery to Christmas decorating traditions.

Three years later, I celebrated my first Christmas as a married woman. At that time, we lived in Germany where my husband was stationed with the U.S. Army. I shopped for my decorations in the village, and my husband and his friends drove up in the mountains to cut down our tree. While holiday music played on Armed Forces Radio, I hung blown-glass bulbs and clipped on delicate glass birds. I arranged and rearranged them seeking a perfect display from three sides. When I finished, we went to see a movie on base.

Two hours later, we arrived home to find our beautiful tree on the floor and shattered glass everywhere. My birthday present kitty had wrecked my Christmas tree. Most of the birds survived because they were secured to the branches, but half the bulbs were now glittery pieces. We drove a nail in the wall and secured the tree upright with fishing line. Military pay didn’t stretch far enough to replace the broken ornaments, so I had to stretch the remaining ones over the tree.

The next summer, many of the remaining bulbs and a couple of birds broke during shipment home of our household goods, and others disappeared through the following years. Now I have only one, slightly battered, golden bird left, and I give it a place of honor on my tree every year. Though I no longer have real trees  because of family allergies, mine is traditional in every other way. Tomorrow, I will spend most of the day decorating it. My collection of glass ornaments has grown to hundreds and I still arrange each one with care.

Your turn: What is your Christmas tree like? If no tree, what holiday tradition is your favorite?


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24 thoughts on “A thought on tradition

  1. I opted for a permanent tree with lights on it the year my husband couldn’t cut one down again due to health problems, and my kids had their own family traditions. Now I put it up the day after Thanksgiving and invite the grandchildren to decorate it, from a trove I have saved up for years. Every week we add more to it! It is more satisfying than beautiful, but it makes us all happier in these dark days. I light the appropriate candle on the Advent Wreath at dinner each night too. The month of waiting flies by!

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  2. When I was a small tater-tot, most of our family traditions centered around the tree.

    For a number of years we could not afford the traditional Christmas tree shipped down to Florida from the northern growers. My parents’ solution involved a ride out to the edge of town where the notorious Florida scrub grew. We would wander around for a while looking for a 4-5′ tall long needle pine that didn’t have a gaping hole in one side. Eventually we would settle on a tree, although we never found one without that huge bare spot, and dad would take to the trunk with a bow saw. Within a few minutes we would return to the car, shoes full of sugar sand and socks full of sandspurs with our Christmas tree.

    It never was much to look at, but the smell and the memories made up for it. Up until two years ago we continued the tradition of a fresh tree for our children, but since my youth cutting trees from the side of the road without a permit has been banned and so our adventure was turned into a trip to the local roadside Christmas Tree tent the day after Thanksgiving.

    Now as our children grow older, (one has already left home and the other is not far behind) and my husband and I explore the makings of our empty nest holiday traditions, I have to wonder which memories my children will keep years from now and what new traditions my husband and I will grow to cherish.

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  3. I love hand blown glass ornaments. My entire tree has is full of them. I have a 7ft artificial tree, that looks so real people always feel the branches because they’re not sure. I use multi colored lights (yep, hand strewn through the branches – no pre-lit tree here).

    I started a tradition when my daughter was little of taking her to a specialty Old World Christmas shoppe once a year and allowing her to pick out one or two ornaments to represent that year. When she left home she had her own collection for her tree. (Hugs)Indigo

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    1. I loved tinsel, messy as it was. It shimmered with the slightest air movement. I enjoyed the story of your tree, or lack thereof, Nancy. I’ll be blogging about my forced acceptance of “what is” tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Oh, Christmas traditions!!! I’ve always loved them. (Hence, this crazylong comment.)

    Every year, my grandmother gives my sister and me a new ornament (and now, she gives them to our husbands, too)—that means I have 28 unique ornaments decorating our (fake, but full and real-looking) tree. To that, I usually add some bows made of muted gold ribbon and lots of berry-colored glass ball ornaments (tied on with ribbon, not hung with paperclips like at my parents’ house).

    We always celebrate on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve, we eat an awesome meal (backstrap venison, twice-baked potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, red wine, and dessert), drive around and look at Christmas lights, and then open one gift each. (ALWAYS pajamas. And they usually don’t fit, though they are cute.) Christmas morning, we all take turns opening gifts (NEVER all at once).

    Oh, and my sister and I have what is quite possibly the weirdest Christmas tradition EVER: the walking Sebulba.

    Yes. The walking Sebulba, as in Sebulba from Star Wars: Episode One. We have this plastic wind-up Sebulba toy (you wind him up and he—that’s right—walks!), and when my mom decorates her tree, she hides the Sebulba somewhere inside it. My sister and I compete to be the first to spot the Sebulba. (Winner gets bragging rights.) Oh, and you have to pronounce “The walking SeBULBa” with the BULB accented really hard, with this exaggerated, sing-songy British accent.

    Yes, we are dorks. Told you it was weird.

    But that’s what we look forward to, so I’ll stand by it, haha.

    Anyway! Now I’m looking forward to putting our tree/decorations up! I like your fishing line to the ceiling idea—our kitties think the tree is their own private bed/scratching post/jungle gym. 🙂

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    1. The Sebulba story is so funny, Kayla. 🙂 You’re an adorable dork. Thanks for sharing your traditions.

      We have always had a big Syrian dinner on Christmas Eve, that’s my husband’s family tradition, and then we had Christmas morning with our children, and Christmas Day with my family. Lo these many years later, we still keep the Christmas Eve tradition, but usually do nothing on Christmas Day.

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  5. Your tree reminds me of my grandmothers’ beautiful Christmas trees. Fond childhood memories. We put up live trees for years. I remember the year we got one so tall that my husband had to saw off the bottom to fit it in the house. I guess people that have pets can all report at least one year when the tree went over. It’s too bad you lost so many ornaments.

    This year my husband and I live in a small apartment. I looked at every inch of this place trying to think of a spot to put a tree. I even considered putting one outside the door in the hallway. Everyone else could enjoy it as they passed by. I probably won’t do it. We’ll be at my brother’s home for Christmas dinner. His tree is like yours, always old fashioned and beautiful. Blessings to you…

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    1. Yes, Carol, we had at least one tree we had to shorten to fit. 🙂 Our current house is small, and there’s really not room for our big tree, but I’m not ready to give it up yet. For now, I can stand the inconvenience for a a few weeks. Enjoy your brother’s tree.

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  6. I have all hand-made ornaments – made by me, my mom, my niece, my son, or friends, for the most part. I’ve bought some at craft fairs so there’s still a personal connection with the maker. (The fact that most of these are non-breakable and therefore kitty-proof is a plus!)

    Since moving south, I have a 7 foot palm tree in the living room with little white lights on it — that’s what gets decorated.

    And yes, the angel Alex made from a toilet paper roll, tissue paper and pipe cleaners 20 years ago hangs at the top of the tree. We call it Moth-ra, though, because it really looks more like that…..

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  7. There were eight children in my family. We made our tree ornaments,strung popcorn and cranberries. We made small presents for each of us. My Father and 5 brothers went into the scrubs and picked out a pine tree or ewvergreen tree and brought it home. To this day love real trees, colored lights and homemade ornaments. I hand paint a lot of them. I love Christmas candles and the great smells coming from my mother’s kitchen. If our old walls could talk.

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  8. I love all those different tree decoration stories!
    I grew up in Switzerland and so we always had a real tree with real candles. My mother decorated the tree on Christmas Eve, while I was banned to my bedroom, staring out the window, waiting for the Christkind to fly down from Heaven with the presents. Then, I heard the small bell in the living-room and knew I had missed the Christkind again. The display of the pile of presents under the tree, the lit candles, and the smell of pine, however, wiped away any lingering disappointment though.
    When I moved to the United States, the live tree remained, but the candles were replaced by lights. It took me a while to get used to the more artificial feel of the tree.
    However, when my mother got older and more forgetful, we children began to worry about the burning candles on the tree. So, when I visited and spent Christmas in Switzerland, I introduced my mother to the American tradition of Christmas tree lights. We installed a timer and to my surprise, my mother, in her nineties now, embraced the American tradition enthusiastically. While I had nostalgic feelings about the burning candles, my mother thought the blinking lights were the best thing on earth. Go figure!
    Christa

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    1. Welcome to my blog, Christa, and thank you for commenting. I loved your story about your childhood Christmas trees. Thank you for sharing. I’ve never seen a tree with lit candles, I imagine it’s beautiful. Not at all practical for our American traditions though, with putting up a tree weeks before Christmas Day. And yes, sometimes the “old folks” surprise us. 🙂

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  9. wow – I would love to see that collection one day, Linda! You should go on Martha with it lol.
    I like traditional trees. Must be real, tall, full. That was what we always had. I too had a cat climb the tree when I was a kid. Toppled it in the middle night. Crash! My parents tied it down, yet he succeeded to topple it again! Poor cat, must have spent much time outdoors that year. He used to climb the trunk. I can still see him clearly. funny.

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    1. When you read today’s post you’ll appreciate the irony in your comment, Jennifer. 😕 I guess you can’t blame cats climbing real trees in the house. They probably look at it as a gift meant just for them. 🙂

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