As a younger person, I never branded my family as one that was entrenched in Christmas tradition. We had things we always did, but not necessarily on a certain day every year or in exactly the same way. The more I scour my mom’s photo albums of my childhood, the more certain traditions stand out.
One of our traditions was to decorate my sweet grandmother’s Christmas tree. My Mama always bought a real tree from a nearby lot and she had a type she always went for: short and fat. Every year, she bought a tree shorter than all of us and fatter than a cousin tug-o-war, After the tree was purchased, we picked a date to come over with my cousins to decorate and read the Christmas story out of Luke 2. I can’t think about the holidays without thinking about this. I was a stupid little kid who didn’t always know what was best for me, so I tried to get out of this event a time or two. I wanted to ride my bike or hang in the neighborhood or watch Happy Days reruns. I quickly learned that this was the one event there was no getting out of. Ever. No rearranging it. No cancelling it. No changing it up. This one was in stone.
Because it was the most important thing to my grandmother. And that made it the most important thing. Period.
Later in my adolescence, my grandmother began to come over the afternoon of Christmas Eve and spend the night. This seemingly minor change in our routine brought me a comfort I can’t explain. I loved having her there. I loved that she wasn’t alone. I loved that she woke up in the house with us. It made me feel one layer more protected from whatever awaited me on the outside. She was the fleece to our blanket.
From year to year, there were the smallest of changes. The tree would change. Because again, it was a LIVE TREE. I have no words to waste on purveyors of the artificial. Some years it wasn’t as fat as I previously described. I feel I have to admit this, because I found pictorial evidence and the tree in the photos is quite fit. Short, but fit. Like a gymnast. But I didn’t lie about the short part. My 10-year-old cousin is taller than this tree. And the reader would change. We all liked to read aloud and we were all decent readers. I remember this being such a competition that at the end of arguing over it, we all needed the Jesus who was about to be born. My grandmother got smart, though, and started prearranging the readers and writing them down, so there’d be no repeats the following year. And the baked goods changed from year to year.
But there was always a 6 oz glass bottled Coke for each of us. And there was always a large jar containing full sized candy bars. And there was a spirit of joy in that tiny, one bedroom apartment, where we hung the 50 year old vintage ornaments and listened to the words and music of the season.
Sure, we misfired on a gift or 50 over the years. And we clearly stunk at handcrafting sleds from recyclables. But I think we had the big stuff right.
Happy Holidays. Enjoy the photographic fiasco that includes a red beret, large, wooden parrot earrings, snide expression, man’s plaid dress shirt, and Jane Fonda hair style.