My daddy’s birthday is December 13, and when I was a kid, we never decorated for Christmas until after we’d celebrated his birthday. Of course, in those groovier days of the 1970s, the Christmas season didn’t start the day after Thanksgiving like it does now. Plus, we had a very practical reason: we always had a real Christmas tree, and if we cut it too early, it would dry out before Christmas.
My sister, brother and I could hardly wait for December 14 to roll around so we could go get a tree. Now, in order for you to fully understand what I’m talking about, I need you to erase your visions of tree lots on corners in town. I need you to forget about loading into the family station wagon to go cut a tree. My daddy would lead us all through the barbed wire fence into the pasture, and we’d head deep into the woods. [It probably wasn’t really that deep, but I was little and my legs had to take at least two steps to every one of Daddy’s so it seemed like a long trip.] We’d all go together — Mother, Daddy, my sister, my brother and me — and pick out the best cedar tree we could find. I don’t think we were quite as bad at estimating the tree’s size as the Griswolds, but our eyes were definitely bigger than the ceiling, and Daddy would try to tell us. But he would usually cut the tree we picked. He then would pull it home. I’m sure my brother and sister helped as best they could. I hope I at least stayed out of the way. We’d finally get home, back on the right side of the fence, and Daddy would have to trim the tree down to a house-sized version of itself.
To me, Christmas should smell like fresh cedar.
Our trees were always magical. We had those wonderful old lights, the ones with the large colored bulbs. And we’d cover the tree in shiny silver tinsel — a mess for my mom, I’m sure, but the effect was just right. Larry and I put up four trees now — all artificial of course, all in place shortly after Thanksgiving. Three of them have white lights and the fourth, the one in our bedroom, has all gold lights. Larry turns it on for me in the mornings rather than turning on the bright overhead lights. I’m trying to convince him that it would be okay to leave it up year-round. No luck on that so far. Each of our trees is beautiful, and I love to sit and be mesmerized by the soft glow.
I miss those wonderful old lights, and I haven’t seen a pack of tinsel in many, many years. But Christmas is still magical to me. Each year’s celebration is richer by the new memories we add, and each year makes those early Christmas memories even more precious. Over the decades, we moved our Christmas Eve get together from my grandparents’ house to my Aunt Libby and Uncle Gus’ house and now to our house. Larry and I now stay at home on Christmas Eve night and drive to my parents’ house early on Christmas. It’s only 10 minutes away after all. I may not be lined up in the hallway, excitedly jumping up and down while waiting for my brother and sister to come before going to see what Santa brought, but I’m still filled with that kind of excitement on Christmas morning. It’s not so much the anticipation of seeing what I’ll be getting — although I DO love presents. It’s the magic of being together, of seeing the faces of my family as they open gifts we’ve chosen for them. It’s about feeling the love and tradition of generations of my family wash over me.
I have absolutely no doubt that I’m blessed that this is what Christmas means to me. I’m thankful for the family who loves me and who’ve loved me my whole life. I’m thankful, too, that the baby we celebrate at Christmas is the Comforter, the One who promised to never leave us or forsake us, and the One who is Emmanuel, God with Us. He’s the One who offers to surround us with His love, even when we are alone. That’s a pretty cool Christmas gift.
“This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.”
~ Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), English novelist.