As I write this introductory paragraph, I haven’t locked down the title of today’s narrative. The reasoning is simple: like a blind man wandering in the forest, there’s no designated direction, but I surely will have bumped into some terrific ideas, or small forest animals, by the end of my writing session.
Sure, I have a generalized idea, but no set-in-stone-must-have-narrative, at this specific moment. The problem is sorting and cataloging all of the potential holiday-based stories, in the most logical sense, that need to be told over the next month.
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful ~ Norman Vincent Peale
The first of December marks the beginning of the holiday season as our American culture officially institutes the Twenty-five Days of Christmas countdown. Children all around the nation, and many adults just like me, are giddy with excitement. There is an anticipation of something, in the air from the West Coast to the East Coast, as we roll toward Christmas morning.
I say something because, in today’s complex culture, it seems that every family has a different focus on the festivities of December, whether rooted in the traditions of faith, fantasy, or commercialism. Some parents subscribe to the celebration of Jesus’s birth, while other parents boldly sell the mythology of Santa and Christmas traditions to their children—I’d like to think that our family consists of a fair mixture of both. My wife and I have developed our own collection of traditions that we intend to pass along to our own children. As such, it’s my intention to pepper several daily slots of December’s story-telling with tales from my own family and the traditions, both faith-based and secular, that we employ from year to year.
After church on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my family would go chop down our Christmas tree. Once it was home and placed in its stand, Mom and I would painstakingly decorate our tree. It took hours to place the tinsel, string the lights, find the perfect spot for my favorite macaroni and felt ornaments from kindergarten ~ Molly O’Keefe
In our house, the holiday season always begins with the Christmas tree, in conjunction with Black Friday shopping on the day following Thanksgiving. The normal tradition follows a “we will stay at home and decorate the tree while mom goes shopping” pattern.
The roster for that day includes moving all of the living room furniture, sweeping under the Never Ever Gets Cleaned areas, vacuuming the carpets and hardwood floors, and selecting a spot for the tree. This cleaning ritual is what I learned from my father, for this time each year he surprised everyone with his innate ability to thoroughly clean, although it was a skill that seemed sadly misplaced for the remaining months of the year.
The memories are burned into my mind, and each Christmas I recall, with extreme fondness, my parents’ Christmas traditions. Mom would always play her favorite vinyl album on the record player while we moved, and cleaned, and swept, and cleaned some more: Merry Christmas by Johnny Mathis. She would also hang a red Advent calendar on the kitchen wall, decorated with hard candy, fastened to felt by green yarn, one piece for each kid and each day of the month until Christmas morning. Dad would resurrect the plywood platform, usually from the damp basement, and then setup a suitable tiny village (featuring the plastic Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant), slot car racetrack, or HO model train configuration—as an adult, I followed the same tradition for years, until the kids failed to express a continued interest in the entire miniature world process. Finally, I just remembered the idea of do-it-yourself garland: my mother would make a few batches of homemade popcorn, threading the treat on string, and we would make our own strands of decorative goodness for the Christmas tree. Those were magical years, for me.
Snapping back from my stroll down Nostalgia Lane: currently on the television, The Polar Express (2004) is playing in its entirety, which is one of our family’s favorite holiday movies, and my kids are opting to watch the show rather than clean the dust bunnies—typical behavior.
On Christmas Eve many years ago I laid quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets, I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound I was afraid I’d never hear: the sound of Santa’s sleigh bells ~ Hero Boy from The Polar Express
Logically, the next step involves finding the Christmas tree in the garage, and finally assembling the beast. The king of the living room is our sectional leather couch, and it is that piece of furniture that dictates the available options for tree placement. In front of the dog painting? Lodged in the back corner behind the couch? Placed in front of the large glass window facing the street? Those are the only options, and, upon a family vote, the latter choice is the clear winner by majority vote. Despite our best tree-raising intentions, our Tree-Decorating ceremony was delayed, due to some faulty bulbs in the pre-lit tree—the unlit tower of plastic was sorrowfully assembled in our home, then promptly abandoned.
And we return to the project, one week later, to fully decorate the tree with ribbon, bulbs, ornaments, and candy canes. With the burned-out string replaced by a fresh line-up of brightly lit bulbs, I dragged the boxes of Christmas decorations from the garage. The first layer is always a swirl of red glitter ribbon wrapped around the tree. Following the ribbon, the generic glass bulbs are added to the tree. We have a collection of thirty-six deep red bulbs—well, years later, it’s more like twenty-two—in three different sizes: small, medium, and large. Once those bulbs have been added (large ones lower toward the base, smaller perched near the top half), the unique ornaments are examined.
To be perfectly honest, we have too many ornaments; they seem to reproduce by themselves—probably undisturbed in the dark garage—from year to year. Not only do each of the children have their own set of ornaments, collected from each year of their lives, my wife and I curate our own boxes of ornaments from childhood. Additionally, my oldest brother has a tradition of his own, where he mails holiday ornaments each year, usually selections from his Disney employer.
Like I said, too many. From one year to next, we need to rotate the selected ornaments for the upcoming season. With the bounty laid out before them, the children choose which ornaments or bulbs or crafty doodads that will get added to the tree. Most of the kids participate, without complaint, but my wife chooses to “sit this one out”, claiming the following mantra of that’s kind of your thing, Dollface. No worries, I’m used to it by now.
To finish the tree, we conduct another family vote to decide the tree-topper decoration: silver star, red ribbon bow, or angel with lace dress. This is the year of the lace angel, and she proudly tops the finished tree. Lastly, a box of candy canes are unwrapped and individually hung from random branches.
The tree is finally finished, and (as always) is lovely. For our family, the Christmas tree is a big deal, and an integral component of Christmas. I’m a little sad that our process was delayed by a week, but there’s not much I could do about that, with dead lights and our busy family schedule during the school week. We light the tree every day during December and it’s the focal point of our living room, serving as a reminder to Christ’s birth, which is our reason for the season, and what our family anticipates during this time of the year.
With the fully assembled tree glowing in the darkened living room, perched in front of the window facing the street, reflected in the television glass, my wife is pleased with the final product—even though she sat in the leather recliner and watched the entire process, under a warm blanket, while holding the dog, without helping.
“When are we going to work on the lights in the front yard?”, she asks.
“Don’t you remember? I do the inside, you do the outside…”, I reply.
That’s kind of your thing, Dollface.