I’ve seen attempts at creating traditions. These are often well-meant efforts, often by parents, to do something memorable with their children that will carry on to others in years to come. In my own experience, these efforts often fall flat. It is the simplest things, often not intentional, that seem to take on a life of their own.
When my children were small we walked into the woods behind our house and cut down a small pine for our Christmas tree. We have a tiny cottage near the lake. There is hardly room for us, much less a large tree. And so we had, year after year, what we called our “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.
Now, white pines grow to be huge trees, but when they start out, their trunk is quite thin. What a struggle to get that poor sapling to stand up straight, and heaven help us if our Labrador retriever swatted the tree with her tail. But we strung the tree with lights, and hung ornaments that held stories from years gone by.
When I met my now-husband, he’d never had a Christmas tree. I mentioned our Charlie Brown Christmas trees of years past, but he had a different idea. And so our first Christmas together, he surprised me and brought a small table-top tree for us to decorate. Each year since, he’s brought me a small tree and then stood back as I perked up, opening the carefully stored boxes of memories that spend most of the year in our attic, then carefully hanging ornaments in little nooks and crannies of a small pine.
We’d kept our eye out for a small tree this year but had not been able to locate one. When I spotted one at a local grocery store, I broke with our tradition and grabbed the tree myself. It sat all week waiting for Jon to pull out the boxes.
My local grandkids are sick–we aren’t going to get too close this Christmas. Tempted to melancholy by their absence, I pushed myself to bake a favorite Christmas cake. And then my husband walked in the room with his arms full of boxes from the attic.
I perked up, grabbed the santa hat, and then pulled out the reindeer hat–you know, the one with antlers so you can play “ring toss” with green wreaths onto the antlers? I’m still waiting for this to catch on as a tradition, but you don’t get to pick which things “stick” and which ones simply fade into oblivion. I’m betting the ring toss reindeer game may not make this cut…
First lights–you never put ornaments onto a tree that is already decorated. This tree is so small the lights run circles around each other–this is one well-lit tree. And then the ornaments. The angel on the top of the tree was made by Mom, years ago now, one of her myriad projects to create special things for Christmas.
The glass birds were a gift a few years ago from my husband, reminding me of our shared love for the outdoors and the birds we see along the trail. Goldfinch, cardinal, wood duck, nuthatch, chickadee, owl–we’ve seen them all in the wild. These simply remind us of precious experiences we’ve shared.
And then the Wizard of Oz ornaments–a gift from Mom when my kids were small. Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the scarecrow and even the wizard himself. Mom gave us many, many ornaments, made countless more, but for some reason the Wizard of Oz characters are a “must have” on these little trees, year after year.
My husband and I have shared these trees for over ten years now. Each year is a little different, and he sometimes surprises me with something else to add to the collection. But the truth is that, as with most traditions, it’s the caring, the sharing, the faithfulness in showing up year after year, that what makes such traditions touch us so deeply, in that part of us that lacks the right words.
Any special traditions you have that you’d like to share?
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.