Today, I’m packing away the holidays. Yes, I’m a lazy ghit, I should have done it a week ago, but my family was off school and work and I just couldn’t bear to add finality to our tryst by tidying up the evidence.
We don’t do a lot, in terms of decorating the house, and since it’s just me and a bunch of practical to the point of curmudgeoney men, over the years the traditions have been slowly boiled down but, instead of being sad, I am increasingly impressed by my little family’s ability to separate the wheat from the chaff holiday style and concentrate on what is really important to us in a personal way.
We have a tree. When we lived in what I have come to know as the Wild West, we used to slay a tree together as a family. We would bundle up and hike miles through the snow until one of us was hungry, settle on a reasonably shaped evergreen, take turns stabbing at its trunk with a rusty little saw we used once a year for this purpose, bicker about who was going to drag it back to the car through the snow, argue about where we parked the car, then proudly strap it to the roof like a prize elk. You know, a heartfelt and loving family holiday tradition! Grandma and Grandpa lived LITERALLY over the river and through the woods so we would stop off for cocoa and then head home. In the civilized world where we now reside, trees can only be executed in the safety of tree farms where they grow in orderly rows and are trimmed into the romanticized triangular shape that we have been trained to associate with appropriate holiday spirit (personally, I feel that the rhombus shaped trees in the wild are more spirit filled). Faced with this lackluster slaughter fest, we opted to just purchase one this year. It’s fair to say that, given the emotional wet blanket that purchasing a tree at a Home Depot provides, I can understand why people buy a fake tree.
In our home, the children decorate the tree. Yes, all of it. Truth be told, it’s never well lit and there are only ornaments on the sides that show in the living room, but I really don’t care how my tree looks through the front window. In our hearts, every year, it is the most beautiful tree in the neighborhood.
After the lights have been strung, I sit on the floor near the tree and hand my sons the ornaments from a box and, one by one, we tell each other the stories behind the baubles as they hang them on the tree. When they were young, I told almost all of the stories–most of the ornaments were from before they were born, “Daddy and I bought this on our honeymoon. . . when we moved into our first house, I bought these with Grandma Pat. . . this is the year that you loved Elmo so much we knew that we would need to remember with an Elmo on the tree. . . ” and I loved it. I loved that my children would bustle around a tree listing to our family history dragging step stools around to make sure that the precious memories were hung high enough to be safe from dog’s tails. But now, I sit and listen while my children tell me the stories of our life, “Remember when we bought this in Venice, Mom and it was soooo hot and all of the signs that pointed to the bathroom went in a circle?. . .Oooh, these are from Amsterdam, remember when they talked about all the bicycles in the canals? . . . Ha! Look at me. What was I, 5? We handed this sweater down to Matt and Evan, didn’t we Mom?. . . MMM. Hershey Penn-do you think we should go back there this summer? The coasters were pretty good.” I am struck every year with the realization that, while they act like tough teenagers most of the time, they GET it, what their father and I are trying to do in raising them, and they LIKE it. They celebrate our family traditions in their own quiet, angsty way.
This year, something strange happened. Every year until now, we have hung our family keepsakes and a handful of traditional glass orbs, nutcrackers, and stars, but this year, every time I handed one of my sons a generic ornament, one that didn’t have a story, they handed it back and said, “Let’s do these last” but when the time came, they declared, instead, that the tree was “Perfect!” And they were right. Our tree tells the story of our lives together–of our travels and foibles, our obsessions and hobbies, having raised camera shy kids before there was a camera in every cell phone, I don’t have a lot of photos. But I do have our tree. And it is the most beautiful photo album I’ve ever seen. So you understand why I might not want to take it down, even though the needles are mixing with the dog hair on my living room floors in a constant reminder that I might be harboring a terrible fire hazard? My children are on the brink of adulthood and someday soon, I’ll lose them to their own trees and families so I wish that I could hold onto the magic of our memories together for just one more day.