Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Traditions: The Tree

I've been thinking a lot about how we celebrate Christmas. I grew up celebrating one way, had to adjust to a new way after getting married, and again when we moved overseas. Some things are the same, but others are different.

One of the constants throughout my life has been the Christmas tree. I've always loved decorating it, and the hours spent gazing at its loveliness at night with all the lights twinkling.

But this year I didn't enjoy the tree as much.

Is it because I had so little time, I wondered? (Just five days.) Or is there more to it. So that's what set me on this sentimental journey down memory lane. That and this blog post.

My birthday falls in the first week of December, and I always begged my mom to let us put up the tree that day. Decorating the tree was my favorite birthday activity while growing up. I don't think I had to beg very hard; pretty sure my mom was just as excited about putting up the tree as I was. In fact, I'm pretty sure my attitude toward Christmas came directly from her.

Even though she was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, working at a small diner as a waitress/short order cook/dishwasher, she always made sure to do Christmas BIG. She saved some of her tips throughout the year to make Christmas really special for me and my sister. We always received one big gift and numerous small ones, along with much needed new clothing. Mom wrapped each individual item so we had plenty of gifts under the tree. In addition to the tree we had other Christmas decorations we spread throughout the house, and when snow-in-a-can came out, mom was probably the first in line to buy some. It may not have been snowing outside, but the front window would have indicated otherwise.

Because mom was allergic to plants, we had an artificial tree. A glorious tall sparkly silver tree with a large floor light that had a rotating, multicolored plexiglass front causing the tree to turn different colors: red, blue, yellow, green. 

We had an artificial tree after we were married too, because Ivan couldn't see the sense in paying for a real tree that only lasted a short while. A really short while some years. He would have been happy if we put the tree up on Christmas Eve and took it down the morning after Christmas.

So we compromised and usually put the tree up in mid December and took it down right after Christmas.

One of the bargaining chips when he wanted to move from Florida to Michigan was my insistence that from henceforth we would have real, LIVE trees for Christmas. He agreed.

And for twenty years we had a real tree. Ahhh, nothing beats the scent of pine at Christmas! But as we prepared to move to Argentina, I began lobbying for an artificial tree we could take with us. I was pretty sure real trees wouldn't be quite as available as they are in the states this time of year. And I was right, so I was really glad we included a 6' fake Alaskan Spruce in the shipping container. I chose a skinny tree because I knew most houses here have smaller footprints and I wasn't sure how much space I'd have to work with. It was the perfect size for the rental house on Canning Street, but isn't quite skinny enough for the casita. Frankly, nothing short of a flat cardboard tree would be skinny enough for the casita.

So last year we had no tree at all. Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth. But I determined to have a tree this year, one way or the other! I realized we could set it up in Sta. Rosa, and that's what we did. The only problem is that we're only there for a short time -- and that's a lot of work, setting it up and taking it back down, for only five days.
And like I said at the beginning of this post, I just didn't enjoy it as much.

In my musings about why this could be, I came up with what I think is the answer: It's not about the tree. It's about the people I'm with when I'm decorating the tree! As a child I had my mom and sister to help decorate. Then I had my kids. My first year in Argentina we had co-workers and the second year I invited some of my friends (and English students) to help me. The third year good friends had the tree decorated when we got back from Tina's wedding, and as I've already mentioned, we had no tree last year.

I'm still debating on what to do next year. I might just put away this tradition, at least until we have our house built and there's space -- and friends to help.

Or maybe I won't be able to help myself, and I'll dig all the decorations out next December anyway.

Vamos a ver.


Mari said...

We have a fake tree because 2 of our kids are allergic. I put it up the day after Thanksgiving and take it down right away after Christmas. It's actually next on my agenda for today. I'm about ready for a smaller, easier to put up and down tree. I too have come to the realization that it's not about the tree. :)

rita said...

I like the idea of inviting someone to decorate together! Maybe next year.

The Bug said...

I love having a tree - but I'm lazy enough to not bother unless Mike wants to do it too. We often leave ours up until the time changes because I don't like the dark evenings :)