This Christmas story is all true. And potentially a little shocking.
My parents had a plan. (Anyone who knows them knows that they always have a plan.)
Even after I’d gone away to college, the Christmas schedule would remain unrepentantly unchanged.
The Wednesday of Thanksgiving, the tree would be acquired. And not like bought-from-Food-Lion-in-a-net acquired. More like, salvaged-from-the-wilds acquired. Think National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation without the roots. It was brought home, “trimmed” (and by trimmed, I mean that the lower branches were cut off), it was stood up in a mammoth bucket used only for the tree, the same bricks were used to station it perfectly upright, and it was watered. This was the time set aside for any wildlife to vacate and for it to lose any superfluous needles.
(Thursday was actually left to Thanksgiving. We ate a lot, we took a walk, we ate some more. But it was primarily devoid of Christmas-ness.)
On Friday, we woke up, brought the tree in and decorated it. The lights were carefully stretched from one end of the house to the other, and they were carefully checked to make sure that before my father went about the work of placing them bulb by bulb around the tree, they were all in working order. Next came the star (a family heirloom) and the massive boxes of ornaments that represented years of our lives, the lives of others who loved us, and the various odd crafty bits that were added through the years. (My grandmother always had two trees set up and it was only a wonder that the tree my parents put out didn’t surrender one year to the weight of it all.)
Having decorated the house, we slept, and rose again on Saturday to bake, decorate, and lay out THIRTY-FIVE DOZEN cookies (called “sand tarts”). They would be eaten, given, stored, and given again over the next few weeks. It was an old family recipe, and one that my parents still use, hand rolling out the dough each year, and even making a few with my children over the holidays.
And then, Saturday afternoon, we usually went to a movie, the latest Christmas flick or family-appropriate adventure. (As you might guess, if you know me even a little, this was the addition for me, but that goes without saying.)
But here’s the horrifying truth: as much as I love giving gifts (and okay, who doesn’t love getting them), and Christmas cards, and Christmas stories, and Santa, and Jesus’ birth, I HATED these traditions as a kid. And as a high schooler. And as a college student. I was the biggest pain in my parents’ joint you-know-what because I wanted to do anything but this. (The only thing I hated more was undecorating!) I wanted to be in my room, watching television, or outside shooting buckets, not hanging out with my ‘rents!
And yet over the last few years, as my kids have gotten older (you see where this is going?), I’m starting to recognize the beauty in the tradition. My parents still get their tree over Thanksgiving so that my kids can get a real tree from the farm, and my wife makes sure that every ornament, decoration, and stocking is hung with care. And we go every year to have my kids tell “Legendary Santa” what they want for Christmas (the same Santa my wife, um, who is not that old…told what she wanted!) And I send hundreds of Christmas cards like my mom still does. And…
I find myself realizing that all of those traditions take time, energy, spirit, and a belief that the immature jerks in all of us will one day get that Christmas is about peace, and hope, and family, and that it’s not our birthdays, but a celebration of the best that we can be… together. And I hope that you realize it, too.