Shh! Don’t breathe a word of this to my grown up kids. It’ll be a secret just between you and me, okay?
It’s true confession time, and the truth is…I miss having a real Christmas tree.
There I said it. If they ever find out, they’ll never let me live it down.
A couple of years ago, when our son was in his last year of college, I vowed to end the time honored tradition of cutting down a real, original pine-scented, honest-to-goodness natural evergreen tree to adorn our living room for the Christmas season.
Here’s how it happened:
Mama’s Ode About the Tree
“Its sight is quite lovely
With ornaments bright.
Its lights how they twinkle
Through a long winter’s night.
It spruces up the living room
With its scent so divine.
And makes the entire household
Smell the fragrance of pine.
Its thirst never ending,
Its boughs how sticky.
And once it drops needles
The carpet gets icky.
So Mama says enough!
You’re not here to clean,
So out with the real tree,
To a different kind of green!”
I admit the reason I banished a real tree was because I was sick and tired of cleaning up after the thing. The tradition of going out the weekend after Thanksgiving as a family in search of the ‘perfect’ evergreen was the fun part. We’d bundle up against the cold wintry air, Papa would load up the saw and rope, bungee cords, or whatever he needed to cut down a fir and strap it to the top of our car.
We’d tramp around a Christmas tree farm searching high and low until eureka! There it was. Our tree. Papa chopped, kids helped drag, we sang Christmas carols all the way home.
Excitement reigned as we brought the tree into the house. Adorning it with all the ornaments gathered over the years brought back memories and we joyfully worked as a team to decorate our pine with brightly colored lights and shiny baubles. Then we would extinguish all the house lights, flip the switch to our twinkling tree, and bask in its glow.
The real Christmas tree provided delight throughout the season, as long as someone remembered to keep it watered (usually Papa.) Keeping with our family tradition, we allowed O Christmas Tree to live with us until New Year’s Day when we all pitched in to untrim it, haul it out of the house, and clean up the aftermath.
But as the years went by, the children matured, flew out of the nest, and Mama and Papa were left with tree cleanup duty! When you erect your tree Thanksgiving weekend and keep it up until New Years, your tree wilts and withers. Sharp dry pine needles weave their way deep into the carpeting, the perky pine boughs sag, ornaments droop and drop off its branches. And it generally is a huge mess.
After stripping it bare of tinsel and garland, beads and bangles, lights and the angel sitting on top, it seemed as if there were more needles on the floor than on the tree. And when Papa yanked that sad sight out of the tree stand to transport it out the front door, sticky pine water leaked out and a steady trail of prickly needles, which could easily convince you that you were on a trek through the forest instead of a house, led you from the living room to the front porch.
So Mama said, “Enough is enough!” Since none of our kids were here to help with the piney clean-up, I declared no more real trees. Oh, the protests! “No real tree?? How dare you mess with tradition! What are you thinking? You and Dad are turning into Scrooges!”
But Mama was not to be persuaded. (I admit I’m a bit headstrong.) So hubby and I promptly went out that year during the after Christmas sales and bought ourselves a fancy-dancy pre-let artificial discounted tree. …which lasted maybe two years. The lights went hay-wire, we couldn’t find replacements, and we finally just stripped all the lights off of it. Now each year, we must painstakingly string our own
pain in the neck beautiful twinkling lights on that nice, fake tree. So much for the convenience of a pre-lit one.
The artificial tree is easy to erect, that’s for certain. It doesn’t scratch up my arms producing hives like a real tree. It doesn’t shed (good boy!). It doesn’t lean precariously to one side. It doesn’t make my fingers stick together with pine sap. It doesn’t require watering every day. It doesn’t have sagging boughs. It doesn’t require much clean-up after it’s untrimmed and stripped of its glory.
But it doesn’t look different every year no matter how we arrange the ornaments and lights. It doesn’t exude that outdoorsy scent of the forest. And it doesn’t produce that exciting ‘decorate the Christmas tree feeling’ either. Matter of fact, it’s kind of boring. Ho ho hum.
I’m not convinced that I want to revisit the messy clean-up, but I find myself waxing nostalgic in my book called Opportunity, Chapter 12, Page 15, about a real, honest-to-goodness natural evergreen tree.
Maybe I’m just being foolish like “The Foolish Fir Tree” by Henry Van Dyke, a poem in which a little fir tree wishes for a fancier dress than his plain evergreen clothes until he realizes what he already has is the best.
Hmmm…let me go take another look at that fake tree in the living room while I make a decision about that. And in the meantime, you can read The Foolish Fir Tree, if you’d like.
The Foolish Fir-Tree by Henry Van Dyke
A little fir grew in the midst of the wood
Contented and happy, as young trees should.
His body was straight and his boughs were clean;
And summer and winter the bountiful sheen
Of his needles bedecked him, from top to root,
In a beautiful, all-the-year, evergreen suit.
But a trouble came into his heart one day,
When he saw that the other trees were gay
In the wonderful raiment that summer weaves
Of manifold shapes and kinds of leaves:
He looked at his needles so stiff and small,
And thought that his dress was the poorest of all.
Then jealousy clouded the little tree’s mind,
And he said to himself, “It was not very kind
“To give such an ugly old dress to a tree!
“If the fays of the forest would only ask me,
“I’d tell them how I should like to be dressed,
“In a garment of gold, to bedazzle the rest!”
So he fell asleep, but his dreams were bad.
When he woke in the morning, his heart was glad;
For every leaf that his boughs could hold
Was made of the brightest beaten gold.
I tell you, children, the tree was proud;
He was something above the common crowd;
And he tinkled his leaves, as if he would say
To a peddler who happened to pass that way,
“Just look at me! Don’t you think I am fine?
“And wouldn’t you like such a dress as mine?”
“Oh, yes!” said the man, “and I really guess
I must fill my pack with your beautiful dress.”
So he picked the golden leaves with care,
And left the little tree shivering there.
“Oh, why did I wish for golden leaves?”
The fir-tree said, “I forgot that thieves
“Would be sure to rob me in passing by.
“If the fairies would give me another try,
“I’d wish for something that cost much less,
“And be satisfied with glass for my dress!”
Then he fell asleep; and, just as before,
The fairies granted his wish once more.
When the night was gone, and the sun rose clear,
The tree was a crystal chandelier;
And it seemed, as he stood in the morning light,
That his branches were covered with jewels bright.
“Aha!” said the tree. “This is something great!”
And he held himself up, very proud and straight;
But a rude young wind through the forest dashed,
In a reckless temper, and quickly smashed
The delicate leaves. With a clashing sound
They broke into pieces and fell on the ground,
Like a silvery, shimmering shower of hail,
And the tree stood naked and bare to the gale.
Then his heart was sad; and he cried, “Alas
“For my beautiful leaves of shining glass!
“Perhaps I have made another mistake
“In choosing a dress so easy to break.
“If the fairies only would hear me again
“I’d ask them for something both pretty and plain:
“It wouldn’t cost much to grant my request,
“In leaves of green lettuce I’d like to be dressed!”
By this time the fairies were laughing, I know;
But they gave him his wish in a second; and so
With leaves of green lettuce, all tender and sweet,
The tree was arrayed, from his head to his feet.
“I knew it!” he cried, “I was sure I could find
“The sort of a suit that would be to my mind.
“There’s none of the trees has a prettier dress,
“And none as attractive as I am, I guess.”
But a goat, who was taking an afternoon walk,
By chance overheard the fir-tree’s talk.
So he came up close for a nearer view;
“My salad!” he bleated, “I think so too!
“You’re the most attractive kind of a tree,
“And I want your leaves for my five-o’clock tea.”
So he ate them all without saying grace,
And walked away with a grin on his face;
While the little tree stood in the twilight dim,
With never a leaf on a single limb.
Then he sighed and groaned; but his voice was weak
He was so ashamed that he could not speak.
He knew at last that he had been a fool,
To think of breaking the forest rule,
And choosing a dress himself to please,
Because he envied the other trees.
But it couldn’t be helped, it was now too late,
He must make up his mind to a leafless fate!
So he let himself sink in a slumber deep,
But he moaned and he tossed in his troubled sleep,
Till the morning touched him with joyful beam,
And he woke to find it was all a dream.
For there in his evergreen dress he stood,
A pointed fir in the midst of the wood!
His branches were sweet with the balsam smell,
His needles were green when the white snow fell.
And always contented and happy was he,
The very best kind of a Christmas tree.
Tradition rules in this household. At least that is what my grown-up children believe.
I think I may have created Christmas Tradition Monsters. Yes, it is true that my adult children have their homes decorated for Christmas long before their parents. And this seems to have messed with their minds.
See, tradition calls for Mom and Dad to work themselves into a frenzy to have the entire house decorated inside and out by the Monday after Thanksgiving. We’ve already broken tradition number one.
Sunday evening after my kids all sent me picture messages of their trees – two of them real trees – they all asked if their dad and I had ours up yet. Here’s where tradition number two comes into play.
In our household, our family would trek to a tree farm on the Friday after Thanksgiving and cut down a real Christmas pine tree. A couple of years ago, hubby and I did the unthinkable – we bought an artificial tree! Oh, the horrors of it! Our kids were appalled and still haven’t let us forget that we broke the beloved tradition of pine needles all over the floor.
After responding back and assuring them that their trees were absolutely beautiful (and they were!), I told them we actually had put ours up that same day. Their dad (after some grumbling and fussing with lights that wouldn’t work) strung the twinkle lights around the artificial branches, but then we lost motivation for adorning it with the scads of ornaments we’ve collected over the years.
Oh yeah, that’s another tradition. Every year since oldest daughter was born, we have purchased an ornament for each of our children, many of those they chose themselves. My thought process was that when they moved out or got married, they would then have a box of their own Christmas adornments to take with them.
We also have ornaments from our vacation travels, so the result is that for 28 years, we’ve had a hodge-podge tree with, shall we say, an eclectic assortment of ornaments. No beautiful theme trees for us at least not yet. I’m fairly certain that part of my reason for not trimming the tree now is because I’m a little stymied about how I want to decorate it this year.
But I digress. After telling the kids that the tree was up, lit, but not adorned, I’ve received a couple “scoldings” from them. First came this text message from son: “I didn’t realize that Scrooge and the Grinch were my parents.”
He’s a character, that one. We can always count on him to crack us up with some joke, or silly enactment, or something just plain witty. Of course, I had to text him back and ask which one of us was which. His reply informed me that his dear ol’ dad had to be the Grinch because he is hairier. (Well, thank you son for that one, at least!) Naturally I answered, “Bah, humbug!”
The next day, middle daughter left us a message on the home phone. She had a question for me, but then after her usual “I love you, call me” sign off came this afterthought, “You better get busy and get that tree decorated!!”
I’m seriously considering leaving the tree as it is just to see what their reactions would be when they come home for Christmas, but I’m hesitant because I think it would really freak them out!
Yet another tradition we have is decorating the outside of the house a certain way – red lights on all the shrubs, white lights outlining the porch roof and around the garage, white candle lights and wreaths in all the front windows, spotlight on the front door.
Tradition says we should already have this all accomplished and our lighting display should be ramping up our electric bill by now. But our house is dark and our neighbors probably wonder if we took off for Florida or something! By now, the snow and extreme cold with wind chill factored in is acting as a huge deterrent to getting that light display arranged. Oops, another tradition may go down the tube.
Inside the house, the traditions continue. There are certain holiday decorations that have stood the test of time at our place. Christmas stockings must be hung on the family room fireplace mantle. Our collection of nutcrackers must line up in formation somewhere. Ditto for the snowmen. The nativity scene also must find a spot to shine.
And then there’s the Christmas village. What a time-consuming job that is putting up all those little houses, people, trees, etc. I’ve already relegated the Christmas village boxes to the basement. This year the village is in hibernation. I’m also seriously considering a minimal decorating job inside these four walls.
The food we serve at our house for Christmas dinner is yet another tradition that should be preserved, according to my young adults. Baking cookies together is another. When the kids were all still at home, we would spend an entire day baking and decorating dozens of cookies and then wrapping up containers of the goodies to be delivered to friends, neighbors and family.
But this year, I’ve been too busy at work and too tired when I get home to even begin thinking about holiday baking. (Don’t tell anyone, but I bought some of that ready to bake Christmas cookie dough! I know, scandalous!!)
I have been contemplating preparations for Christmas dinner and mentally starting a grocery shopping list. Dare I change the menu this year? Not a wise idea. I don’t want a mutiny on my hands on Christmas Day. There are some traditions that just shouldn’t be trifled with. And that reminds me, I better remember to buy that mint chocolate chip ice cream for our traditional Christmas Eve sundaes!