We all have them. They’re not the same for all of us, but then again they shouldn’t be. They are a reflection of our beliefs and of our culture. They are as individual as we are. We call them our traditions.
I remember back to when I first started to teach grade two. Looking at the Social Studies curriculum, I was stumped. The children were asked to discuss some of their family traditions. As I was unable to do this myself, I wasn’t sure how I could expect them to do so. Traditions? What are those? I don’t have any traditions. As I began to delve into the expectations of the curriculum, I soon realized that traditions are actually very common events in our daily lives. Take, for instance, Christmas traditions.
Ahh…the family Christmas tree. Every single year heading out to find the perfect tree for our family Christmas was one of our traditions. At least it was until we discovered a tree in a box.
I must say building tree in a box doesn’t compare to the thrill of heading out in the cold wintery weather to find the one special tree that will be privileged to claim a place of honour in our home for the Christmas season. But at this point in our lives, with children grown and no grandchildren yet, the adventure of tree finding lacks the excitement it once held. In fact, I even wonder, why bother at all?
Then I realize that we must have a tree because we have always had a tree. It’s what we do at Christmas. Regardless of how busy we are, regardless of what else is happening in our lives, every Christmas we stop what we are doing for a brief time to set up and decorate a tree. It’s a tradition. And tradition brings with it memories.
I still recall as a child helping my mom put ornaments on our tree. Memories of visitors, of family, of food, come flooding back when I think Christmas tree. In front of our living room window, our tree would stand, waiting for Santa to place presents under it. Though our tree wasn’t exactly overflowing with wrapped packages, my brother and I were excited all the same.
My husband recalls his dad heading to a neighbour’s farm to cut down a tree from their bush, just off the side of the road. Now, I’m not sure if that would be considered a criminal offence these days, but back then they assumed it was okay. Maybe that memory was what led my husband to cut down a tree from our backyard one year. He and the kids had set out to the tree lot to bring home our prized tree, as usual, only this time they came home and there was no tree. “Where’s the tree?” I asked as they exited the treeless vehicle. “There’s no tree,” said my husband. “They’re out of trees?” I asked. Turns out, the children couldn’t agree on which tree was the right tree. “But we have to have a tree,” I said. To which my husband responded by heading out to the backyard with a saw like some maniacal Clark Griswold from that Christmas Vacation movie. “Here’s your tree,” he said as he dragged it into the house.
Whether cut fresh from the farm, bought at a tree lot, set up from a box or chopped down from the backyard, the tree appears on schedule every Christmas. The adults acknowledge its importance, the kids get excited about it, the pets wonder what’s going on. I can just imagine what my cats must think as they stare at us bringing the tree into the house. “First you bring us in, now you’re bringing the trees in too? What did you do, find a stray tree?”
I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but it in my experience, when you put a tree, kids, and pets together in the same room, there are bound to be issues. What do you expect when you bring a tree into the living room? Lapping up the water in the tree stand, eating the tinsel, climbing the tree, chewing the electrical cord, knocking off the balls – these are some of the common safety concerns of which one should be aware. But as is usually the case, kids and pets are a lot wiser than adults. After all, everyone knows trees are for climbing and balls are for batting, and trees are not meant to grow in the living room.
If you are intent on having a tree in the house, you can almost certainly expect that at some point it will come crashing down. I remember our tree falling down once when we were kids, my brother and I admiring the ornaments. “But, but…we just touched it,” we explained. “We don’t know what happened.” As a mother myself, I felt that such an incident could possibly be avoided. So my husband and I roped a string around our tree and hooked it to the window in an attempt to keep it upright. And I must say, I don’t recall a single time the children knocked down the Christmas tree (so far). However, there must have been a year we neglected to secure our tree properly, and down it crashed. All of us went running into the room to see what had happened. The children were with us, so it was a mystery, the tree lying on the floor. Except the cat had made a very swift exit to the basement for some reason. I imagine he was thinking, “But, but…I just touched it. I don’t know what happened.”
Even more important than the tree itself are the decorations on the tree. Although the tree may have been a different one each year, the ornaments remained the same. New ones joined the older ones every so often. Special ornaments for a daughter, a son, a grandchild, ornaments with names on them, an angel, a car, a fire engine…ornaments that brought with them memories. Memories that brought out our reminiscences each year. My husband would talk about how the lights have changed over the years. At one time, when one of the bulbs went out, they all went out. Then sometime during his youth, improvements were made and it was no longer necessary to waste time looking for the elusive faulty bulb. The bulbs were also larger back then. But then, it seems everything was larger and worked better when we were young. The ornaments we have are now considered vintage, much like us. Many of them were bought during our first Christmas together. Now I have inherited the ornaments my mom bought when I was a child. With ornaments comes a great responsibility. Do we use them and risk breaking these heirlooms, the memories attached to them? Or do we keep them packed away safe, but forgotten? The same problem applies to other mementos of our past. Use them, maybe lose them? Box them, risk them being forgotten?
In the past couple of years, since my mom passed away, we have decided to use her tree in a box and her ornaments in memory of her. I had almost forgotten how hard she worked to put that tree up every year for the past two decades. I now understand more clearly why she did it. For us, and for her grandchildren, she put forth all her effort into ensuring the traditions of Christmas would continue. At age 80, she kept every Christmas tradition alive – from the tree to the decorating, to the gift shopping and wrapping, to the baking, to the feast of a meal. If she thought it was all worth the effort, the very least I can do is put a tree up in my living room window once a year.
It’s not quite the same, of course. The same tree, the same lights, the same ornaments my mom used…but not the same. I remember how her tree always seemed to be perfectly decorated, everything placed just so. That tree shone. That tree twinkled its welcome. Now it stands in memory of her, keeps a part of her with us as we continue to celebrate our traditions of Christmas. Traditions that have been important in our family over generations. Traditions that I know my children will carry on when I’m gone.
And so there it stands again this year, in all its glory. Ornaments that were mom’s, decorations from my parents-in-law, mixed with our own old ornaments from over the years. Ornaments that will someday belong to our children (minus the ones the cat plays with). Whatever tree they end up on, they will be sure to bring back memories as they are carefully unwrapped year after year.
Wherever the tree stands, it stands for tradition and good memories. There were years we experimented with the location of the tree, placing it in a corner of the family room or the rec room. It was very cozy, tucked away. My favourite spot for it, though, is where everyone can enjoy it. Visitors at the door, people going for a walk, folks driving by, can all share our joy of the Christmas season in the form of a simple tree. Our Christmas tree stands proud, overlooking the street, in front of our living room window. Right, where it belongs.
Ivanka Fear is a retired teacher and a writer from Ontario, Canada. She holds a B.A. and B.Ed., majoring in English and French literature, from Western University. Her poems and short stories appear in or are forthcoming in Spadina Literary Review, Montreal Writes, Spillwords, Commuterlit, Canadian Stories, Adelaide Literary, October Hill, Scarlet Leaf Review, Polar Borealis, Lighten Up, Bewildering Stories, The Sirens Call, Utopia Science Fiction, The Literary Hatchet, Wellington Street Review, Aphelion, Sad Girl Review, and Tales From the Moonlit Path. She has recently completed her first novel.