Over the weekend I ran a piece on Rene Syler’s site – Good Enough Mother that informed the world that yes, I had managed to toss out one of the hundreds of “traditions” that my wife had brought to our family.
You see, my wife loooooved to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, which basically involved putting confections into smelly kids’ shoes. My wife, you see, loved her traditions she just didn’t want to be the one who actually did the work for them. That’s not me being mean, it’s just reality.
But this weekend we did another one . . . one that seems more like our own than one that involved Andrea.
Some years ago, when stumbling through the Sierra foothills looking for a tree farm to buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree, we happened upon this small, family-run tree farm. We’d bought a really nice tree, they treated us very well, and the kids had a lot of fun. We hadn’t gone back, though. Of all the traditions that my wife loved to keep she never really kept up the idea that we go to the same places or frequent the same spots. We had to have the family traditions from her upbringing – even if they made me absolutely freaking crazy.
So last year, when we needed a tree and I didn’t want to use the artificial one that we’d been using for so long since the Indian Rock Tree Farm in the Sierras trip, I decided to go back to one of my family traditions. I remember, years ago when I was a kid, going out to my grandparents’ old farm, where a massive couple shelterbelts stood sentry on either side of the road into the lot. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, but we went in, had hot chocolate in a thermos, trudged in the snow, and took turns sawing down a tree for the house. We sang O Christmas Tree and danced around and had just a great, memorable time.
So last year I took to the internet and found the place we’d cut the tree those years ago. It was time to start our own traditions again. I did again today.
The Indian Rock Tree Farm isn’t a huge place, it’s really a small little family run place. There’s a fire in an old barrel, candy canes for the kids, and it’s just beautiful. As you get out of the car you can smell the pine . . . it’s nestled between two peaks and you see nothing but trees and smell the air. It’s the closest to the Black Hills of South Dakota anyplace has come for me.
This year we found a tree in record time. It was a little crisp, our breath snaking out in wisps as we walked. Abbi looked at me and – as she has every time it gets cold, in a routine we’d developed when she was a tiny girl – goes “I’m a dragon!” and blew the steam upward. Last year there were arguments, and the stress of being in the holidays made it hard to find a tree. The loss still weighed a little heavy on us. But this year . . . the tree just appeared and we all agreed. It was maybe 10 minutes and we had it!
We waited by the fire as they bundled up the tree and smiled. We Cleaned up the area for the tree at home. Then, as the day turned to night, I made some cookies and hot chocolate and we started decorating. I put on Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas record, another tradition of mine, and Sam decided to wear the lights as we tested them making us all giggle. We all marveled at pictures of the kids as they were tiny in the ornaments. We reminisced about the ornaments that we’d all gotten as gifts: a crystal angel that my Grandma gave Abbi. Another one – a snowflake – given to me and Andrea during our first year together by my Grandma as well. It felt, by leaps and bounds, like it was Christmas.
A lot of people come to me and say “it must be so hard this time of year for you!” Yes, there are those moments – where Hannah finds an old ornament of Andrea’s; when an ornament with “wish” on it sparks Noah to say “maybe I should wish for Mom to come back!”
But I handle those things with aplomb now. “Let’s think about wishing for things we can make come true. How about that?” I ask him.
“Yeah…that’s true,” he says, and there’s no breakdown moment. There’s no darkening of the mood. Christmas comes every year, and though Andrea did it up brilliantly every year, I refuse to let the amazing feeling I get every winter be spoiled by loss. I want all four of them to remember this like it’s the best time every year, too. Sure, Andrea’s gone, physically, but we honor her and my Grandpa and everyone in our family by celebrating. It’s not a small thing, it’s a beautiful thing.
Traditions are just that – things that bring you comfort. There’s a reason I have 1 tub of stuff to decorate in the fall and something like 8 of them for Christmas. Traditions like putting food in shoes – those were little things that brought treats and appeased kids for my wife and her family. But Christmas in my house . . . Christmas is the tradition. Getting the tree, decorating, eating cookies and cocoa, those all make me smile.
I put the angel on top the tree, looking like a cross between Andrea and Abbi, and nobody gets sad. “I picked out that tree topper, I thought it was beautiful,” Abbi says with a smile.
I come down from the stool and quote Linus Van Pelt from Charlie Brown’s Christmas special – “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really.”
Then the kids chimed in . . . “it just needed a little love!” A truer statement couldn’t be said.