Home and Family

Christmas Memories – The Christmas Tree

N.B. See my previous post on the Christmas Memories Advent Calendar for the complete list.

When I was growing up, we always had a real tree – never an artificial one – mainly because Mom liked the piney smell of them. That, and she didn’t believe in fake trees. So every year around Dec, 13th (The Feast of St. Lucia) Dad would take us shopping for a tree. We were never one of those families who put their tree and decorations up right after Thanksgiving.  I don’t remember much about those times – probably because I was always the quiet one in the background and just followed along. But every year we came home with a good sized tree (though some years they were more scrawny than others), and we’d start decorating it.

Why Dec. 13th? I’d have to ask my mom again, but I remember that she once told me it “marks a shift in the liturgical calendar” – devout Catholic, my mother. Ideally to her, we wouldn’t have put our decorations up until Christmas Eve, and take them down on the Feast of the Epiphany. Us children would not have gone for that, though.

Our tree was always very eclectic. There was never any theme to it, no matching ornaments. Mom used to make ornaments (she would crochet them), and every year on the Feast of St. Nicholas (Dec. 5) we kids would get another ornament in our shoe to hang on the tree – so that each of us kids would have enough ornaments by the time we were grown to decorate our own tree. Of course, after we moved from Dickinson when I was 9, they quit that tradition … family troubles and a divorce got in the way of things like that.

The tree was pretty much our only Christmas decoration. Besides our stockings and the Advent wreath, anyway. A couple of times Mom put up mistletoe, but that wasn’t a popular thing in my house – we kids never wanted to kiss each other. And Mom and Dad – even before their divorce – were never all that affectionate.

For several years when I was a kid we also had a Jesse tree before/leading up to Christmas. Mom had these wooden ornaments made – symbolizing a different story in the bible, and every day beginning on Dec. 1 we would put one ornament up and read that story from the bible. At the end of reading the story we would sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. Mom passed the Jesse tree ornaments on to me, and I’ve done it the last several years with my girls. It’s a nice way to pass the time until Christmas. I’ve seen different versions of the ornaments and corresponding stories, and I think Mom had hers made when she was in her feminist phase, so they typically follow more a female line than male (at least when possible).

Every year, decorating the tree was a joint family effort. We all pitched in and helped – at least as much as our ages allowed. In later years it always seemed to end up in a fight (this was after my parent’s divorce), but I don’t remember it being that way at first. Of course, my mother is notoriously stressed and tense around holidays – which stresses everyone else out. I think it comes from this need to have everything be perfect, else her family (particularly her in-laws) would judge her and find her wanting.
What’s sad about that is it’s caused her children to have irrational anxiety and dread when it comes to holidays – particularly regarding hosting anything. Something to work on … I hate the idea of perpetuating that cycle.


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