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Christmas Then and Now

That tree, the one in the middle of the field, looked perfect. Not too wide. Just the right height. Except when we got close, we saw bagworms. This wouldn’t be our Christmas tree. When I was a child, my family went to our farm to cut a cedar tree. Sometimes Mom stayed home and baked sugar cookies and made hot chocolate, using Hershey’s cocoa and sugar, and sometimes she went with Dad, my brother Roger, and me.

Dad drove the tractor, a red International Cub, and I sat on the seat with him so I could steer, but Dad kept his hands resting on the steering wheel. Roger and Mom walked beside the tractor unless it was really cold and then she drove the family car as far as it was safe on the dirt road.

We passed the white wooden house where Dad’s grandparents had lived and where he was born. No one lived in the dilapidated farmhouse in the late 1950s and the tobacco base and pastureland were rented to a neighboring farmer.

At the foot of Huddleston Knob in Pickett County, cedar trees were plentiful, but choosing the right one took time. Like the one with bagworms, other trees appeared perfect from a distance, but closer they were much too wide or had a gaping hole with no branches. Dad traipsed from tree to tree holding out his arms to gauge a tree’s width and standing tall to his full 6’ 2” to estimate a tree’s height.

When we finally chose one, Dad and Roger chopped it down and we carried it home, a few miles away, tied to the top of the car. One side of the tree was always thinner with fewer branches so that side faced the living room picture window. Because Mom wanted the metal star placed at the treetop to graze the ceiling, Dad cut an inch at a time off the tree’s trunk until it was exactly the height she wanted.

My two oldest Grands, ages 11 and 13, went to their family’s basement last week and lugged a cardboard box to their living room. Elsie and Samuel opened the box and unpacked the sections of their 8’ tall artificial tree. They lay the pieces on the floor to determine which one had the longest branches and would be at the bottom of the tree. They and their parents stacked and secured each section to build their Christmas tree.

Then they adjusted the long metal branches so that they looked like a tree that had been cut in the woods.   And the whole family fluffed the pine needles on each limb, unfolding and ruffling the small plastic twigs that have been squashed in a box for eleven months.

I cherish the memory of cutting a tree in the woods. But, you know what, my Grands will cherish their memory of putting up their Christmas tree too because they’ll remember family time. Time together – that’s the happy memory.

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Are Ornaments Necessary?

 

DSC03225For just a moment, long enough to take a picture, I decided our Christmas tree was beautiful with only lights – no ornaments, no angel, no red ropes -just lights. It was late one night in early December, and I was really tired when I posted that picture on Facebook and wrote “Are ornaments necessary?” And Facebook friends chimed in.

Nell: Real Simple magazine recommended this style of decorating about twelve years ago. I tried it and got zero votes of approval from my grown and gone children.

Kim: If they are special to you.

Janet: Well, you know the hard part is over. Go for it. (I didn’t even do the hard part. Husband did.)

Carolyn: I found out I could do without some ornaments this year. Got tired of finding a place to hang all of them. I looked at them, remembered, and put them back in the box. Does that count? (Yes!)

Jimmie: I’ve made the grievous move from a live tree to an artificial one. I’ll enjoy going through the ornaments, but there will be serious downsizing. Things change, but the tree will be pretty, just different.

Sara: The ornaments tell stories of our life and Christmas past and present. I’ve seen many lovely trees, but for us, the ornaments matter because they connect us to one another, whether present or absent, living or not, family or friends.

Becky: I’ve passed the ornament memories to Staci (daughter), which she loves, and I simplified my tree, just red ornaments and frosted pinecones. Different tree, same Christmas memories! It’s all in the heart anyway.

Carol: (a retired teacher) I still enjoy the ornaments because I have names of students written on many and I say a prayer for each of them as I hang their ornaments. The ornaments bring such fond memories of days gone by and remind me of the love we shared during the school year and beyond.

Tanya: I love personal ornaments. It warms me so when I open my box of decorations and see all those handmade ornaments given to me by my children and special friends.

Daughter: Yes!!!! I’ll send some elves over to help tomorrow. So you only have to do the top third and maybe a little rearranging on the bottom. And don’t forget the train underneath!

My friends encouraged me. The next morning I strung the red bead ropes and hung my fragile ornaments near the top of the tree and my bird ornaments nestled in a flock. My two oldest Grands and I decorated our most beautiful tree ever, and then they helped Husband set up the train.

I didn’t rearrange a single ornament that my Grands hung. Not even the three that touched each other on one branch. A plastic glitter bell from the first Christmas that Husband and I celebrated as man and wife. A glove ornament cut from one of Granny’s quilts. An elegant green and red ball that was gift from a friend.

I knew the real answer to my question. Ornaments aren’t necessary. Neither are lights or angels or electric trains or even a tree. None are necessary to celebrate Christmas. But my tree is beautiful and late on Christmas night, I plan to sip tea and cherish each ornament. Its memory. Its love. Its story.

 

 

 

 

 

What Season is This?

beautiful_christmas_tree_6_hd_picture_170696 A few weeks ago, my 4 ½ year old Grand and I were together in my van.  While we waited for a traffic light to turn from red to green, Ruth and I admired the bright golden leaves on a maple tree.  We talked about the many colors of leaves during the fall and that fall is also called autumn.  Time for another fact.  I grab teaching moments with my Grands.

“It’s fall now and next will be…?”  I said.

“Christmas!”  Ruth shouted.

“Christmas is a holiday.  But you’re right.  Christmas is in the next season.  It’s winter.  Does that make sense?”  I said.

Ruth was seated directly behind me so I couldn’t see her face.  Since she was silent, I guessed that she was thinking.  The traffic light turned green and we’d travelled several blocks when my Grand said, “Well, Samuel calls the next season Christmas and Elsie calls it Christmas and I call it Christmas.  Mommy and Daddy call it winter.”  If you were four, would you agree with your older brother and sister or your parents?

The more I’ve thought about Ruth’s answer, the more it makes sense.  These December days certainly don’t feel like fall.  Golden leaves and orange pumpkins are long gone and by the calendar, winter begins December 21st.  So here we are with a few weeks that aren’t really fall and not yet winter.  And it’s a time with activities all its own.

Christmas Season – a time to decorate.  The only time of the year that we rearrange our living room furniture.  That’s so our Christmas tree can stand front and center of the window with enough floor space for Husband’s electric train under it.  The everyday decorative knick-knacks are packed away.  Out come Christmas pillows, a manger and nativity, family pictures of past Christmases, carolers, red candles, boughs of green, gold ribbon.

Christmas Season – a time to shop.  I shop more now than I do all the other seasons put together.  Shop for gifts and things I didn’t know I needed until I saw them advertised at door buster prices.  Shop at the local toy store, bookstore, kitchen store, bazaars, department stores, drugstores, online, wherever gifts are sold.

Christmas Season – a time for bells.  The ringing of church bells, jingle bells, hand bells, Salvation Army bells.  Bells on my mailbox, bell collection on my pump organ, bells tied to little girls’ shoelaces and hair ribbons.

Christmas Season – a time for mistletoe.  One tiny sprig of green leaves hangs on the doorway between my kitchen and dining room to encourage hugs and kisses.

Christmas Season – a time to party.  With friends and family and coworkers.  With food and drink and presents.  To play games and sing and visit.

Christmas Season – a time for good wishes.  Husband and I have friends with whom we connect only at this time each year.  Call me old fashioned – I like Christmas cards and family newsletters and pictures.  And I like the shouts of “Merry Christmas!” across grocery aisles and parking lots.

Ruth is right.  Winter doesn’t come after fall.  Christmas does.  Christmas Season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trash or Treasure

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My Christmas tree is decorated just the way I like it.  Lights, red bead roping, ornaments and an angel on top.  Ornaments handed down from my parents’ Christmas tree. Ornaments that were gifts from family and friends and school children.  Ornaments made or bought for a special memory.  I can tell the story of each one.  But there are more ornaments still in the storage box.  Some not hung for years.  Enough to decorate another tree, and one tree is all I want.

“Here,” I said to Daughter as I handed her a full plastic bag.  “Take these ornaments to your house, please.  And maybe you’ll hang some on your tree.”  She held the bag in her hands.  “Wait, let me look at those again.”  I took the bag from her.  “Maybe some should be thrown away.”

Who could trash Bert and Ernie?  Handmade, from yarn, and Bert is only missing one eye.  The white crocheted snowflake has just a few yellow spots.  The ceramic angel that I painted would look pretty if someone glued her wing back on.  I can’t trash a Nativity –even a miniature plastic one. A blue Smurf probably means something to one of my children.  The shiny red apple is still pretty.  Why do I have three wooden factory-made stockings?  There’s no name or date on the back of any of them, but they’re cute.

I can’t bring myself to throw away the dozens of calico ornaments that I made in the mid-1970s.  I stitched them at night after our children had gone to bed.  Five-inch stockings and candy canes and wreaths.  Cut from yellow and red and green calico.  Two pieces of fabric zigzagged together and stuffed with polyester pillow stuffing.  Unbreakable.  The only kind of ornament that hung from our tree for several Christmases.  The years when little hands took ornaments off the tree.  And those same hands hung them back on.

I wonder where the picture is of our children when they were 3 and 5.  They were standing beside the Christmas tree and pointing to the ornaments they’d just hung.  Twelve calico ornaments hung side-by-side on the electrical wire between two lights.  Calico really isn’t in style now, but there’s a cotton fabric candy cane and wreath hanging on my tree.

Red glittery plastic bells.  I’m not trashing those.  I bought them at the Dime Store and Husband and I hung them on our very first Christmas tree.  What if I tie a narrow green ribbon through the loop of each one and write “Pop and Gran’s tree, 1969” inside the bellI’ll attach one to the bow on each of our Grand’s gifts.

So the red glittery bells are on my gift-wrapping table and every other ornament that I thought I might cull is back in the plastic bag.  I’ll give them to Daughter.  Surely she won’t throw any away.