As the calendar waves goodbye to the gluttonous days of late November and looks ahead to the magic of late December, we are gifted 24 days of joyful merriment and anticipation. Unless you’re all bah-humbuggy…in which case, sucks to be you. I love Christmas. I love the giving and receiving, not necessarily in that order. I love turning our home into a warm, cozy, holiday habitat. And I especially love the traditions that awake from their year-long slumber to provide us a chance to make memories for years to come.
Growing up in my family, one such tradition was our annual tree-cutting party. On a frigid Saturday morning in early December (seriously, in all those years we couldn’t have one unseasonably warm day??), the entire family would travel by caravan (and one time, by big, yellow school bus) to a Christmas tree farm and cut down the perfect present canopy. After hours of debating Douglas vs. Fraser as if it were a controversial court decision, and showing signs of frostbite in no fewer than 3 toes, we’d finally agree on the arbor of the year and head back to my Uncle’s house for one of our typical, Italian-family gatherings.
If you come from an Italian family, no explanation is required for the above sentence. If not, imagine if a family reunion and a New Year’s Eve party got married and had a baby. Then imagine that baby grew up, married a college frat party, had a baby of its own…and that baby used hand gestures and a megaphone to speak. That’s what a party is like in my family.
Songs would be sung off-key and at volumes not normally heard outside of rock concerts. Stories told for 14 consecutive years would be told again…and again. My great-aunts would dance and sing to their favorite Christmas carol, “Dominick the Donkey”, producing belly aching laughs and sprightly leg kicks. These parties reside in my memory as some of my favorite family moments and they served as the kickoff to the holiday season.
The next day was dedicated entirely to the tree. From its placement in the room, to the perfect configuration of lights and ornaments, the trimming of the tree was not just a holiday activity; it was a job. We’d begin by realizing, upon insertion into the tree stand, that the redwood we purchased was too tall for the room. This happened every year. Choosing a Christmas tree is a lot like watching basketball players on television; they don’t seem so big when they are among others of their kind, but get one in your home and it’s like freakin’ Gulliver’s Travels.
So after several “adjustments” with a hacksaw, we’d maneuver the beast into the stand and begin the process of finding its good side. You didn’t know Christmas trees had insecurities about their looks? Oh yes, it’s true. And my Mom was determined to raise the self-esteem of our forest friend by showcasing her best attributes. So my Dad would lie on the floor, hands wrapped around the base of the stand, turning the tree ever so slightly while my Mom stood across the room directing traffic.
“A little more, a little more. WAIT! Go back! Ok, now the other way. A little more, a little more. STOP!”
Dad would gingerly crawl out from under the branches as we all stood back and admired the majesty of a perfectly positioned Christmas tree. Next up; the lights. I always enjoyed this part the most as a young boy because the lights were a job for my father and I. The women folk would sit back as the guys took over the manly duties of making the tree look pretty with sparkly colors. I was in charge of untangling the giant green ball of Christmas cheer while Dad started from the bottom and slowly moved up, dressing the limbs in a coat of colorful lights. I still don’t know how he did it, but those lights were always perfectly spaced all the way to the top.
The sound of a forklift in the backyard signaled the arrival of the boxes of ornaments. After years of collecting, but never replacing, my mother had amassed a collection of ornaments that could easily cover the tree at Rockefeller Center. We’d spend the next couple of hours filling every square inch of branch space until the tree finally cried uncle and its limbs resembled those of a weeping willow. We’d sit back on the couch and admire our masterpiece as Christmas carols serenaded us in the background. The holiday was officially underway in the Chaney home.
Sometime over the course of the following week, the sounds of joy that filled the air would be shattered by the sounds of shattering Christmas ornaments as our towering symbol of the holidays, no doubt weighed down by the thousands of Santa-shaped trinkets adorning its branches, came crashing down on our family room floor. Year after year, like a scene from a National Lampoons movie, we’d experience the toppling of our Christmas tree, only to forget about it a year later and have the scene replay itself again. I don’t remember how many years it took before we realized the err of our ways and started tying the tree to the wall, but I’d venture to say it was far too many.
So after the searching, freezing, finding, cutting, partying, standing, lighting, decorating, falling, tying, and re-decorating, we always ended up with a gorgeous tree, dressed to the nines in all its bling, for the holidays.
I’m sure you have a Christmas tree related story to share…go ahead, whaddya got?