People place a lot of emphasis around the annual quest for the perfect tree. Factors like “when” you get your tree, “where” you get your tree, “what” kind of tree you buy, “who” goes on the quest and “how” you decorate it, all define the importance of the mission. It becomes a ritual.
When: I believe the timing of when a family goes in search of their tree is one of the biggest contributors to the tree tradition. If you think about it, that officially symbolizes the family has introduced the holiday into their home. Some people have the tradition of putting their tree up immediately — either the day of or the day after Thanksgiving. While others, may wait until Christmas Eve so that Santa can bring the trees with the presents. (This was always the case for my German grandparents.) Sometimes it’s cultural and sometimes it’s as simple as when you have time off work and enough money to go buy one.
Where: Like in the movie, A Christmas Story, do you pile the family in the car head off to the nearest local tree lot? Or, do you prefer the Griswold family tradition of cutting your tree from the forest with your own two hands? Some people choose to opt out of either of those methods and simply pop their artificial tree out of a box with lights and all ready to go! Whatever your preference, this defines part of your tradition.
What: I have noticed that many people feel strongly about what kind of tree of tree they must buy each year. For example, my mom is insistent that she can only have White Pines in her house because they have the longest needles. She feels that the long needles aren’t so prickly when it comes to decorating and sparing your hands from injury. She also is passionate about the White Pine because they don’t dry out and lose their needles as quickly. Growing up we always had White Pines but as I grew older and lived far, far away from my family, I strayed. Personally, I was always a Douglas Fir fan but unfortunately, you can’t grow that species in Ohio where I live, so I have had to experiment with tree types over the years as you can only get the Douglas pre-cut. (Unfortunately, buying a pre-cut tree violates one of the 10 tree cutting commandments in our family: Thou must cut your own tree.)
We’ve had Austrian Pine, Frasier Fir, White Pine (of course) and possibly others. They all look, smell, and decorate differently. You have to pick the breed that is best for your brood – sort of like choosing a dog.
Who: The question of who goes on the tree hunt is never a question in our house. As many people as possible go including the dogs. However, I do know some families where the tree-obtaining quest is left to the man or men of the house. The dad, the uncle, the grandpa, go out and take part in more of a testosterone filled mission. I suspect these sorts of trips are often preceded by an hour or two at the local sports bar followed by 15 minutes of actual tree attainment.
How: Once the tree has been selected and has a home, the manner of how your family decorates the tree plays the next role in the tradition.
My dad never had enough patience to decorate the tree, so his role was complete after it had been cut down and brought home. Once it had been plunked down in the tree stand, Mom took over from there.
Growing up I used to watch the soap opera, Days of Our Lives, and the Horton’s always had the tradition of decorating the tree as a family. Bo, Hope, Marlena, and Alice all had their special ornament to hang on the tree. It was a group effort and seemed so perfect (as TV often does.) It was a far cry from what I knew of the decorating expereince, which consisted of my mom hauling tons of cardboard boxes out of the attic and unwrapping them from newspaper, one uglier than the next. We’d top it off by dripping those silver stands of icicles over the branches. The Horton’s tree always looked better than ours.
Whether it is one or multiple family members decorating the tree, we all have certain approaches to the ritual that make it special.
This year, I was able to get some help from my daughter and think I got a glimpse of what our family’s tree trimming tradition may hold for years to come …(Translation: me redecorating after she has gone to sleep).