Are you a traditionalist or a game changer at Christmas time? Growing up, I was in a family of game changers. The year before I was born, my mother put fiberglass “angel hair” on the Christmas tree. She had a toddler at the time. I’m pretty sure that would be against all kinds of safety rules today but, surprisingly, my brother managed to survive it without any lasting damage. Later, we were the ultimate 1960s family with a silver aluminum tree centered in front of the bow picture window of our 1960s ranch house. The tree was hung with red Shiny Brite ornaments and illuminated by the requisite rotating color wheel. I loved that tree! In the 1970s, after my father retired from the army and we settled down on eleven hilltop acres in Tennessee, my parents often bought live Christmas trees. And I mean ones to plant in the yard after Christmas. This meant we couldn’t leave the lights burning on the tree for too long at a time as my parents worried about damaging the tree. It also necessitated a huge washtub to hold the root ball, which was covered by a white sheet. By the time my parents moved into a condo, there was a row of gorgeous, two-story-tall white pines along the property line. It was so amazing to see those giant pines and remember that they were once our Christmas trees. In addition, we seldom decorated the tree the same way. One year we covered the tree with silk poinsettias and red ribbons, some years there was shiny tinsel garland, one year I made a garland of ribbon chains. Even the location changed. The tree was usually placed in the family room, but sometimes the living room.
Now I am in a family of hard-core traditionalists. Even moving the tree to the other side of the living room causes an outcry. There has been some flexibility on garlands, but the ornaments are always the same (although the collection increases in size every year). The most longstanding tree tradition in my family, though, is also the best. We always go to a tree farm and cut down our own tree. In 1993, when our son (the youngest) was not quite two, we made our first trek to a tree farm. We had moved from the city to one of the more remote collar counties outside Chicago. Our friends from the city thought it would be fun for all of us and our little toddlers to cut our own trees. We had a blast and a tradition was born. Our friends, on the other hand, had a miserable time and went back to tree lots the following year.
When we moved to our current house, about fifteen years ago, we searched around for the perfect tree farm, and we found it. It was about 35 miles away and had the absolute best cider donuts you can imagine. Oh my god, a hot cake donut dusted with cinnamon sugar after a cold tramp around the fields is heaven! And we always tramp. We never take the hayride, the wagon, or any other mode of transportation. Sadly, our favorite tree farm closed in 2009. Last year, we found a new place. It is a little further away, and there are no donuts (sigh), but dogs are welcome and, get this, there are reindeer and even a live camel. I still have more than a week to wait, but I’m really looking forward to heading out to the tree farm. I just hope it snows.