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?