In November, when I made up my mind that I’d be spending Christmas in the city this year, I had a thrilling realization – staying in town for Christmas meant finally getting my first Christmas tree. For as long as I can remember, getting the Christmas tree has always been a sacred event, of sorts. While the traditions of the tree have changed over time, the excitement around getting the tree each year remained a constant. For many, many years, we had two Christmas trees at our house. The smaller, kids’ tree lived in the family room, while the larger, fancier tree occupied the living room.
While size was the primary difference, the decoration of the two trees set them apart, as well. The kids’ tree was the home of all those cheesy ornaments you make and acquire over a decade of having 3 kids in Catholic grade school – cotton ball snowmen, yarn and popsicle stick crafted God’s eyes, baked cinnamon ornaments in every shape imaginable. This tree was a mess of construction paper, photos, ribbons, and glitter. Knowing my mom’s love of all things Christmas and crafts, I imagine somewhere in the house she had a file folder chock full of DIY ornament projects from Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart, and Kid Crafts. Decorating the kids’ tree was an unceremonious free-for-all. The ornaments were kept in giant recycled popcorn tins, and my brother, sister, and I would haphazardly throw the ornaments that we had made or that were special to us wherever we could find room. (Secretly, we were each vying for prime real estate, the front and center of the tree. Or maybe that was just me…)
The big tree was an entirely different story. Ornaments had individual boxes, were carefully wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap, and were very, very breakable. I don’t remember ever having anything to do with the lights and the garland, but the actual placing of the ornaments was a family affair, carefully supervised and watched over so that ornaments were evenly spaced and the overall effect was aesthetically pleasing. And, of course, every year there was a giant show down over who got to place the pièce de résistance – the tree topper – on the very top. This was the tree family and friends would see to the right as they first entered the front door, that was visible from the street through the living room window, and which served as the background for family pictures each year.
As we grew up, many of the kids’ ornaments broke or were discarded overtime, and eventually, we streamlined the process to a single tree. As family dynamics changed, so did the tree traditions in each household. (I do recall, however, that my sister and I still fought over who got to put the tree topper on in my senior year of high school, which was the first Christmas we spent in my mom’s house in Santa Ana after my parents separated.) Sadly, as I’ve spent less and less time in California leading up to the holidays, my role in these traditions has faded and I know about new traditions not by experience but through stories – my sister dresses flannel and buffalo plaid from head to toe when she and my mom pick out their tree, my dad and stepmom like to get their tree on Christmas Eve. For the past few years, not being home in time to help pick out or decorate the tree, but not being around on Christmas to have a tree of my own in my apartment has left a Christmas-shaped tree hole in my heart.
I wasn’t quite aware of this until it dawned on me that I’d finally be able to get my own tree this year. From Thanksgiving onward I stopped at every Christmas tree stand I passed, comparing price and quality. My dad and I discussed the merits of the Noble versus the Douglas fir when I was home California during the second week of December. And when, on December 19th, I finally picked out my tree, a handsome 5-foot Fraser fir from the Astor place tree stand, I absolutely glowed as I carried it back to my place. As for my decorating traditions, they involve hot cocoa, listening to the Nutcracker, and immediately writing out Christmas cards in the glow of my newly decorated tree. Fortunately, Cop had no interest in putting the star on top, so I had that right all to myself this year.
Now, without further adieu (and because I’ve promised photographic evidence for my mother for the past 2 weeks), the story of my tree in photos: