Traditions around the Tree

by Pamela Capriotti Martin

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I have no idea how my passion for Christmas began but I can venture a guess. When we were young, my mother worked hard at making Christmas special for my two brothers and me. She sewed matching outfits or nightgowns for me and my cousins Cindy and Nancy. My grandmother was Norwegian and she made lots of lefse and taught me to press the cookie dough in the sandbakkel tins (theyre a Norwegian almond flavored sugar cookie.) I spent endless hours searching through the Sears catalogue looking at pretty dresses I would love for Christmas. And my brothers and I would sneak a peek at around 2 a.m. Christmas morning when we were certain Santa had already put all our things under the decorated tree.

But the tree was a hassle for my father and the tree stand never actually held the tree appropriately upright. It fell at least once annually. My father absolutely hated putting up the tree but I looked at it as magical with the colored lights, handmade ornaments, and tinsel, carefully placed strand by strand by me and thrown like spaghetti by my younger brother toward the angel on top.

It was fine but I thought there must be more. I found “my Christmas in the movie, Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and I was certain thats how it was meant to be. On a little 16 inch black and white television I would wait for my movie every year on Channel 11, Movies with Mel. Then, I found out there were more magical films. Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, Come to the Stable, and while we didnt have color, White Christmas because now I was certain if Bing Crosby was around, it really was the beginning of Christmas. (It should be noted here that my ringtone for Christmas is Mele Kalikimaka by Bing). I wasnt a big fan of Its a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol because they werent as happy as I presumed Christmas should always be.

I spent the fall semester of my senior year of college studying in Italy and the UK, arriving home Christmas Eve to no tree! I began to cry as Id been homesick for much of my time abroad and in my mind, the tree would be up, cookies baked, and hot chocolate would be ready. None of the above. My father dutifully put me in the car and off we drove to the barren tree lot. Only one tree remained and no one was there. A note was attached to the tree If you found this tree then it is free. And so it was, and I took it home, decorated it myself after finding all the decorations in the basement, and baked myself cookies vowing I would never ever not have a tree.

I started my own traditions and mini rules in my brain. My husband has willingly played along in what I consider important to our Christmas holidays as he has his own expectations which involve mince pies, skis, and plenty of tasty Christmas cookies despite his protestations that they have carbs.

Im pretty sure I passed some of my passion along to my four daughters although they all pass on watching Holiday Inn but may watch Love Actually or a marathon of Christmas Story instead. They have begun their own traditions of making ornaments, putting ribbons on the tree, having more than one tree with a theme and decorating their homes with joy.

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The Christmas Tree trimming begins for us immediately after Thanksgiving. (USA not Canadian) It was a daddy/daughter outing with mummy getting things ready at home. The girls were always told to choose a tree no taller than the tallest girl. And I swear it was always 9-10 feet tall. And oh, so beautiful. My husband and however many of his daughters were available, one then two, then four, and then three, then two and the last two years, just one, chose the tree. This year, our first without a daughter living at home just him and me.

Many years we spent Christmas skiing as a family, and yes, there was a second tree cut down by the girls and their father at a tree farm in Vermont. I pack one small box of lights and unbreakable ornaments and our little tree reflects the warmth of the family tradition we built together over time.

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This year, the tree is as tall as me. A little more petite than Im used to, but its perfect. I have ornaments for at least three trees that size, for you see, I also bought each girl a new ornament every year with the intent they would take their own ornaments with them when they moved away and put up their own trees with the families theyve created. I probably should have marked them though. Anyone want to figure out who belongs to which ornament?

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