My family and I have our tradition at the beginning of every December. We decorate our house for the holidays. We put on Christmas music. I grab the warehouse full of boxes with decorations from the basement. My wife takes down anything not related to the holidays sitting on the shelves. I set the over/under on the number of ornaments the girls will drop and break (it has been 2 ½ for the past few years…take the over). We all chase the dog around the house when she grabs a decoration. I spend three hours trying to untie a series of unending knots in the Christmas lights and we put together our fake tree (Scoff if you want at the thought of a fake tree but I figure in a few years, everyone will just hang a digital TV on the wall and “turn on” their tree so its not that bad.)
Now I consider myself a traditionalist. Not in the, I think major league baseball should do away with inter-league play, sense but in the, its important to have traditions with your family sense. Whether you are chopping a tree down in the forest or piecing it together via color coded branches, tradition can be as important as the season.
Growing up I had a tradition. My dad and I had one job outside of stringing lights around the outside of the house; get the Christmas tree. My mom was in charge of finding places for the 37 Nutcracker statues, 90 different Santa Claus figures, and the plug in candles around the house. The lights and the tree were our jobs. That and staying the hell away from my mom, if that counts as a job.
My dad would grab some rope, bungee chords, gloves, a pair of hand trimmers, a blanket to lay in the car, his wallet, and me. We would make our way from fire company to bank to any place with a parking lot in search of our Christmas tree. This was no small feat. Trying to find a Douglas fir of proper height, width, and needle durability was like trying to find the Fountain of Youth in a parking garage. Each stop, the two of us would make our way up and down the aisles of trees. When we saw a tree the two of us deemed as having potential, my dad would slip on his gloves. He would grab the tree by the trunk and pull it in to the middle of the aisle. He would spin it and stomp it on the ground a few times to test the needles. I would back away from him to get a good look at the symmetry of it as he held it like a fisherman holding a marlin he had just caught. It wasn’t uncommon to lay a tree back down due to height or too much open space between branches or for being too full or because after dad stomped it the needles fell off in to a pile on the ground.
Finding the right tree took time. Patience. A steady hand and a keen eye. None of which my father or I had. But we pushed through to find the tree (mainly because both of us were scared of my mother). Sometimes it took some convincing (amazing what a few branch snips and rotating the tree can do to its appearance) but my mom always loved her trees. So every year, at the beginning of December, my dad and I could be found tree hunting.
Towards the end of his life, I knew my dad didn’t have the strength he once did so I donned the gloves, grabbed the tree, spun it around, and stomped it for the needle test and showed it to my dad, who was now the eyeballs of our operation. It was a Christmas tradition my dad and I got to share together. It was a tradition that rivaled any present I had ever received on Christmas day. It was one of the things I looked forward to the most about the beginning of December.
And today, though my tree hunting days with my dad are long gone, after we’re done decorating, sweeping up the broken ornaments, untangling strings of lights, get the dog to drop whatever she has in her mouth, and the tree is put together, I still grab the “trunk” of the tree to spin it and stomp it on the ground. Because its important that I show the tree, for the sake of tradition, to my dad.