When I married almost thirty years ago, I adopted most of my husband’s family’s Christmas traditions wholesale. My family didn’t really have any, so why not borrow? Hey, my parents had seven kids. Traditions? We called it good if there was just a little peace on earth and minimal bloodshed.
My husband’s family had traditions. Lots of them. I’m petty sure my husband’s family had a tradition for Ground Hog Day and National Cheese Doodle Day. So, they had Christmas covered. Cheese fondue Christmas Eve. Stay in pajamas Christmas Day. Stockings only before breakfast. Our first Christmas together, we drove the ten miles to his parents’ house in our pajamas to keep the tradition. And woke everyone there up, because they had said 8am, but apparently, they did not mean it.
But a new family needs to build new traditions as well, to forge their own identity. As our children marry and/or fly the nest, I expect they will do the same. A dance of combining old and new into “us.” So yes, we’ve made our own.
At Mrs. Disciple, we’re talking traditions for the #FridayFive. Rather than tackle five general traditions, I’m focusing on tree decorations. We have traditions on our tree, and it makes it our own.
First, the tree has a specific time.
That inviolable time is the day after Thanksgiving. We go, wind, rain, sleet, or snow, to cut down the perfect fir tree, which will inevitably be pronounced (by me) as the most beautiful tree yet. The smells of pine, spruce, twine, and hot chocolate mingle right into our car as we drive away. Th photos capture the same roles every year – my husband kneeling over with the saw (it’s not usually his best look), middle child swinging the twine over the car just so, youngest child hopping around with cold toes and making greenery into antlers, and oldest child checking to ensure the tree is balanced to perfection.
It will take my husband approximately ten and a half hours to hang the lights on it. Just so. Then, we decorate, taking some time to talk about the ornaments we choose to put on. We consider a perfectly ordered, themed, and color-coordinated tree an abomination. Our ornaments range from the one my husband made in first grade from a toilet paper tube to the Murano glass one we bought in Venice. They dangle next to one another, a reminder that our year, and our lives, combine differing measures of perfect beauty and last minute DIY improv. I don’t covet those perfect trees on the Pinterest boards. I want my tree of memories.
So for our five traditions, here are five kinds of ornaments we traditionally hang to keep our memories alive and give us our family identity.
The childhood ornaments
The ones my husband made, already mentioned. We don’t have any that I made. My parents did not keep such things. We do, however, have fragile glass balls from my childhood tree, their paint gilded and fading, but their beauty lies not in the paint.
We have the ones our girls made, the ones stuck together with glue and glitter and a little sheer hope and childlike faith. They are made of aluminum and popsicle sticks and fun foam and construction paper. There were also some made of dog biscuits, but those met an untimely end when we hung them too close to the dog. My favorites, of course, contain their tiny faces, peeping between evergreen needles, reminding me that those days fled by quicker than those needles will fall.
The travel ornaments
Wherever we have wandered, we have a memory on our tree for it. San Francisco’s painted ladies, Nova Scotia’s lighthouses, Europe’s landmarks, a light-bedazzled crab from North Carolina and a painted sand dollar from Puerto Rico. Every time someone pulls one out of a box, we are transported.
We remember the being together days that only vacations offer. We may start talking about the next one.
The watershed ornaments
Driver’s license. High school diploma. College. Baby’s First Christmas. All are celebrated on the tree. Which can tend to bleed into the next category . . .
The obsession ornaments
The resin girls doing perfect back flips through branches remind us of the gymnastics years. The scarecrow and Aslan ornaments and Glinda bubbles and Snow Whites bring back hours of theater efforts and applause. Belle and Ariel are telling which princesses were favorites around here once upon a time. And Snoopy at his typewriter is mine, no matter what. If someone has a zeal for something in this family, an ornament probably shows it.
The handmade ornaments
Several of the ones I made when we were first married and could barely afford a $17 tree let alone ornaments still hang. A bit bedraggled, perhaps, but they hang. They remind us of harder days and instruct us that those days are good ones if we embrace them. I can’t look at them without seeing again, like a reverse telescope, the hope-filled and beautiful first years of a new family and new dreams. Who knew what the years after would bring? Who expected what this tree is filled with?
We did not. But hope took us through those almost thirty years. Hope still does.
Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. (Romans 5.2-4)