Dec 1, 2011

Virtual Advent - O Christmas Tree

 

The Christmas tree is one the most standard traditions of Christmas. Yet, it is interesting to think about all the variations that each family can make on a single tradition. There are age old questions like real or artificial? When and how to decorate? What is the right size? Growing up I had the opportunity to see a whole variety of traditions even within a single Christmas.

 

 

Christmas Tree Tradition One

As a child we always had friends over while we decorated the tree. We would put on music and serve lots of great finger foods. For some people this may be more of a day spent with just family, but since it was just me and my mom we loved having everyone come over and visit.  My mom had about a million Christmas ornaments. Some I had made through various school projects over the years, some she had brought home from her travels in other countries, some were antiques, and other were gifts.  Every year we had a live tree. We would usually go to a tree farm in the next town over to cut down a tree and bring it home. Since moving to Utah, I found that tree farms are not common everywhere, though. There are times when this, and people not having a party to trim the tree, feel very different to me.  Here in Utah the traditions are totally different.

 

When it came to our tree my mom always spent a lot of time finding the right size and shaped tree. I remember walking down row after row of trees and saying “This one’s good!” Just to have her find what felt like one branch that was too short. She was constantly saying no to trues that had “bare spots” I couldn’t see. Not that these spots ever would have matter because the first thing my mom would do after the tree was up was cover it with about 25 strands of all different kinds of Christmas lights. There were white lights, and colored lights, and blinking lights, and faster blinking lights.

 

We usually put the lights on before our tree decorating guests arrived. My mom and I would wear nicer clothing and have plates full of appetizers ready. The boxes of Christmas decorations sitting  open by the side of the tree. My mom had one layer of ornaments then tissue paper then more ornaments ect. going about 12 layers deep. We would put 2-3 ornaments per branch. I always got to put the star or angle on the top of the tree. (Which do you use?) For years our was a star of David I made out of popsicle sticks at school. At the end of the night the tree was an explosion of color and light. It sparkled and glistened. And that was even before my mom brought out the tinsel which my friends and I would grab by the handful and toss all over the tree.

 

Christmas Tree Tradition Two

There are tree traditions you experience and some you only hear of in legends. One thing I can tell you for sure, my father’s mother had the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen in someone’s home. EVER. For much of my father’s childhood and all of mine there was a 12 foot tree in the corner of the living room on Christmas morning. When and how it got there changed between generations. But the one thing that never changed was that in this house SANTA was the one who decorated the tree!

 

Before bed you would gather around in the tree in your pajamas, someone would put out milk and cookies, the grown ups would pull out the boxes of the ornaments and we would put them right at the base of the tree. Considering how festive the tree decorating had always been at my mom’s house this tradition ALWAYS baffled me, but also added an extra level of excitement. We would head off to bed and the large doors going into the room with the Christmas tree would be closed behind us. Early in the morning we would get up and they would still be closed. We would wonder what toys were there for us, we would wonder how the tree looked now, I think we even worried occasionally what it would be like if Santa didn’t come.

 

We always went to church first thing. When we returned we sat down to breakfast and opened our stockings. This part was my favorite. The stocking were three feet long and STUFFED with amazingness, but I would always wonder still what was lingering behind that closed door. It was not until everyone was done eating and opening their stocking that we could open the door to the living room. I don’t think it really mattered how it looked when it did open because all the built up excitement made it a wonderful moment no matter how many presents were under the tree.

 

The interesting part of the tradition was that for my father, Santa brought the tree and presents and decorations ALL on Christmas night. That had to have been such an amazing experience for him and his siblings. I could not imagine going to bed with nothing and waking up with EVERYTHING. They even had those 3 foot long stocking when he was a kid!

 

SPOILER: I found out later the reason behind the tradition and it is interesting to observe how it was still semi kept in tact even though it didn’t need to be. When my father and his family first moved to Connecticut they were poor and struggling. They could not afford a Christmas tree. After the kids went to bed my grandfather would go and poach a Christmas tree in the middle of the night, knowing that no one would be there to catch him. I cannot imagine going out and getting a tree, putting it up, decorating it, and putting presents underneath it all in a single night. Even though it wasn’t exactly right, the idea seems like such a sacrifice to me, and such in the spirit of the wonder of Christmas for a child.

 

Christmas Tree Tradition Three

While the Christmas tree tradition at my dad’s housing wasn’t anywhere near as festive as the others, it was very touching.  It is a little hard to explain, I think, without my dad maybe coming off looking bad. When I was really young we always did Christmas with my grandparents, but when I got to be about 9 or 10 my dad started ordering his Christmas trees. Yep, out of a catalogue that just delivered it right to his back door. My dad owned his own business and was very busy. Especially around Christmas time because it was important to him for his employees to get time off. He would work double or triple as hard to make sure all the work got done in his office without asking them to work more.  The idea of getting and decorating a Christmas tree felt like a lot of work to him. He knew when he ordered one it would look PERFECT and be easy to put up since it already came in a stand.

 

When it came to decorating the tree he would just give me the box of decorations and let me do it. I liked working on decorating the tree by myself. I knew it was important to my dad that Christmas was special for my half sister and I but I think he always quite sure about how to do it. My dad was always very generous and while he loved giving gifts on Christmas, he loved giving them all the time. I think Christmas never felt special to him, it felt like a time when he was busier and working harder. But there was no way he was going to let us down by not having a tree.  So even though this third tradition isn’t as fun and festive as the other too, I still remember it fondly.

 

What are your Christmas tree traditions?
How have they changed over the years?

 

To read more holiday related posts all this month please follow the Virtual Advent Tour!

17 comments:

  1. Our Christmas Tree Tradition was thus:

    Wrestle the gigantic box out of the basement the day after thanksgiving, and drag it to the living room.

    Yes, we have a boxed tree. And it has been the same tree, for my ENTIRE LIFE, approximately. (So, around seventeen years? Just kidding, probably less, but I cannot remember a time when we did not have this artificial tree).

    Mom sets up the stand and pushes the branches in, because us kids were incapable of sliding the little metal rods into place. She also mostly handled the lights, for similar reasons.

    Instead, we fluffed branches. SO many branches. And when we got older, my sister's allergies would always act up from the dust... XD

    When the tree was up, Mom would put on the star, and us kids would begin the decorating. Lots of odd bits and bobs collected over the years, homemade things, a lot of ornaments given to us kids on Christmas's past.

    And if your name was on an ornament? You HAD to put it on the tree. Any other person placing your ornament was a grave offense indeed.

    There were the favorite ornaments: The gold snowflake chain, the crystal hearts, the felt mice... We'd squabble for the right to position those.

    We HAD stockings, they just weren't ever FILLED filled. Maybe a few odds and ends jammed down in the toe, but mostly we just got boxed presents. ;) My best memory of those stockings was grabbing two stripey ones, pulling them on, and pretending to be Pippi Longstocking.

    Since getting older, it's not as big an event. But it's still fun. ^^

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  2. Enjoyed reading this! It is neat to read how others had traditions with putting up the tree!! I blogged about Christmas trees and our traditions yesterday as part of the Virtual Advent tour!

    May you and your family have a Merry Christmas!

    betty

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  3. Oh dear. I am going to have to work harder at a tradition. Ours involves me telling the boy that the tree won't go up until his room is clean, and then putting on a CD and decorating it together.

    I loved the stories you share, particularly about your cheeky grandfather who took a risk to make his family happy.

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  4. At our house growing up, my dad, my brother and I would decorate the tree while my mother decorated the rest of the house. Typically there would be eggnog to be drunk and Christmas music playing in the background - but that's really all that happened as far as our Christmas tree tradition went.

    Thanks for sharing yours!

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  5. Thanks for sharing your traditions!

    My Mom, Brother and I would usually decorate the tree and sometimes my Dad would join us (he was often working). Other than that not much tree tradition but I started a tradition of collecting ornaments as an adult (that will be my Virtual Advent Post).

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  6. I love hearing about all the different traditions people have when it comes to Christmas. That's what I love best about this Advent Tour. ;)

    I think it's sweet that your grandfather would sneak out and get a tree and do all of that in one night. I know it might be questionable, but the intentions were good. :)

    Growing up we had a little handmade, felt angel on the tree. My grandparents had a flashing star. With my own trees? The first year I had moved out I found a lovely silver angel holding one white light and she graced the top of my tree until just last year when she finally caved into old age and wouldn't light up no matter how many new bulbs we tried. :( We now have a sparkly star that doesn't light up. I think I'm ok with this, but I'm giving it this year as a second chance to really win me over. Meanwhile, I'll always be on the lookout for the best tree topper ever. ;)

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  7. This post was great, Megan. I am glad you joined in in the end. When I was a kid the Christmas tree was a big deal. My mother loves decorating and goes all out. Nowadays, though, we don't really have room, so we just put a little one up. It is nothing amazing, so not even really worth mention!

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  8. That is actually really cute and I can see why each tradition holds such fondness for you. The tree at our house got pulled out of the basement when my father could no longer ignore our whining about getting it put up. Lol! When we were teens, my brother or I brought it up. We had yearly ornaments that marked every Christmas since the birth of my brother and I. (Or near to it). We each had a Baby’s First Christmas ornament and then a yearly ornament after that. Later, they got to be too fragile to risk on the tree with the pets around and got displayed inside a case set on the shelf. The real fun was the argument over whether to use the white or colored lights!

    Patricia @ Lady with Books

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  9. We were a tree farm family, too, growing up, so that's what I did when I moved out on my own. The first couple years after my partner and I moved to D.C., however, we'd buy them from a vendor at the farmers market. But that gets pricey and you lose part of the fun in going out to the country, so now we drive an hour to a Virginia tree farm we've found and saw one down ourselves.

    My first Christmas after college, I was working at a university and, remembering how sad it was to lose out on decorating a tree by the time you finally got home after exams, I invited all my interns (as well as my friends) to my apartment to help trim my tree. I don't work at a college anymore, but I still have people over the first Sunday in December to help us decorate and to kick the season off. It just seems right somehow.

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  10. wonderful post. i really enjoyed reading each of the traditions and loved the history behind the second.

    ~L (omphaloskepsis)

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  11. This was a fun post to read for the Advent Tour. I really enjoyed how you had three different traditions with the tree. As my parents divorced when I was quite young, I grew up with two different traditions for the tree. When I left home I was very young, 18, and then my father and his new family started a different tradition - they put the tree up Christmas Eve, which was unheard of before. So I tried to take a little of all the traditions when I left home. It's been quite a few years now, and the one that I've kept and love and have made all my kids do, is that we open the stockings first, then break for breakfast, before we open the presents. We put our tree up a few weeks (up to a month) before Christmas, so we have lots of time to enjoy the tree and the lights, and all the decorations.

    Thanks for your lovely post! I really enjoyed it. Happy holidays, Megan!

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  12. How lovely! I have always liked the idea of a beautifully decorated coordinated Christmas tree but with four children our tree is a piece of heart not art!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd OUt

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  13. Shellyrae, I love what you just said - a piece of heart not art!

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  14. Shellyrae, I love what you just said - a piece of heart not art!

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  15. Sounds like some great traditions. Until we got an artificial tree a number of years back, we went to either a tree farm to get a tree or to a tree lot. And then my mom got the artificial one and they haven't turned back. I would love to have a real tree, but the hassle of making sure its watered properly each day and the fact that there are some pretty good artificial trees with lights on them, certainly makes it worth getting a fake one (doesn't help that I live in an apartment).

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  16. What an awesum post! I LOVE LOVE learing about different holiday customs and traditions!
    I am posting one on my blog tomorrow from my heritage (I am German and Irish) hope you stop by tomorrow too :)This one for today is kinda silly but tomorrow is back to basics.
    Advent Tour Day 11

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