Christmas has evolved for me through the years – from the moment I realized that Santa didn’t exist to my first Christmas with my son – and every year a new memory is made.
As a child, one of my most important memories is of decorating the tree. My parents divorced when I was young so we had 2 (or 4, when grandparents got involved) of everything and at both houses my brother and I were involved in decorating the tree.
When I was a young, my mother’s tree was a mix of our ornaments and hers but each year we took over more and more of the tree until later it was all ours thanks to our growing ornament collections (she made sure to buy us one every year – so many that once I managed to decorate an entire tree in just the gold ornaments from my collection). The decorating of the tree at her house was a subdued but meaningful affair.
At my Dad’s, where the family had extended much further, the tree decorating was a huge, chaotic event. Until sometime in my teens we cut down our own tree in the woods near our house so the fun started long before the first ornament was hung. We had to cut the tree, stand the tree, secure the tree, light the tree (after untangling all the lights), ornament the tree (counting the breakages), garland the tree, snow the tree with static-y strings of silver, skirt the tree, and for weeks ensure it stayed watered so we didn’t inadvertently burn down our log cabin house with a dry tree and old, very hot lights.
As a teenager, many traditions stayed the same but one thing that really stands out then, and through my early twenties, were the Christmas Eve rituals. We’d had the tradition of getting up crazy-early for some time. When I say crazy I don’t mean moderate – I mean 4, maybe 5 am. We would see who could be first to wake everyone up. Eventually this evolved into a few years of seeing who could stay up all night. No one ever made it but sometime around age 20 my stepsister and I came close as we watched movies like the Princess Bride well into the night. I had a dual motivation that year: claiming my Christmas morning spot. At the time there was a chair-and-a-half that was the prized seat. I miss that. It was possibly the most comfortable piece of living room furniture I have ever had the pleasure of using.
Now, as I have my own growing family, things have evolved again. When I married six years ago I stopped spending Christmas Eve at home. It was a bittersweet change. I miss all those mornings, first at my Dad’s and then at my Mom’s. On the other hand, I love waking slowly with my husband at my side and seeing my two year old revel in the marvels and his parent’s undivided attention. This year will be his 3rd Christmas and it gets better every year. Last year he was old enough to cause problems around the tree and he even managed to break an ornament. This year he is old enough to help put it altogether and I can’t wait to share everything with him, including the stories Wal-Mart and the mall don’t tell – that important, meaningful story of a little baby born so long ago.