Yes…the holidays are upon us.
Stores blare Christmas music, commuters face nasty holiday traffic, shoppers swagger through crowded shops,
busy busier frazzled parents lose patience with tired kids, and families spend hours (or days!) decorating their homes. It’s a time filled with ritual and traditions. And every family has its traditions. Some families go nuts every year on the outside of their homes hanging lights and signs…we don’t get crazy with our property — maybe we’ll put a few strands of white lights here and there, hang a couple of wreaths with bows, that’s about it.
But our Christmas tree inside our house? Ah, now that’s different.
We give heartfelt attention to our trees. My mom loved decorating Christmas trees. She trimmed beautiful trees. So did my grandmother. She had two trees at Christmas time with an elaborate, magical, snowy Christmas village underneath both of them, complete with kings on horses (or were they camels?) pointed toward her fireplace which had a beautiful creche inside. She spent a lot of time putting puffs of cotton underneath cotton batting then sprinkling glitter around to make it look like a shimmery, snowy fantasy land. She had little houses, animals and figurines spread all around and then a lovely little wooden fence on the edge of all of it. When we were old enough, my sisters and I would help her assemble this (what was in our minds massive) world. It was absolutely delightful.
We don’t even try to replicate that magic, but, sort of as a tribute to my family of origin, I put some effort into our tree. I enjoy decorating it. It all starts with the search for the right tree. We go out to a tree farm and my hubby uses a wimpy little saw (provided by the farm) and a whole lot of brawn to chop down a tree.
This year, our son spied a Norwegian Spruce (super prickly but great for holding lots of ornaments). It’s a funky tree, and we actually heard another family rejecting it because its branches were a bit wild and dense. We didn’t mind. So, in a Charlie Brown (well, Linus) kind of way, we decided that was the one for us. With a little TLC, we trimmed it, removed some of the sappy branches (and the twisted weedy thing that was growing up the trunk) and took it home.
Hubby and I put it in the stand without incident and then it was up to me to do the rest. I turned on some Christmas music, got a cup of tea and just sat and looked at it — not because I was feeling contemplative and pondering all my Christmases past, rather because I couldn’t find the box of lights. I had the tree topper, so I climbed up the ladder and set it on top, then I went back through the dozen or so boxes of decorations to search for the lights. I was just about ready to give up when, almost an hour later, I finally remembered that I stowed them in the attic.
Thank you, God! I mean, I needed the lights, because it’s the first step in the system. Yes, I have a decorating system that I’ve developed after years of advice and assistance from Mom. I start with the lights (I used to do a spiral around the tree, now I just zig zag up and around it and place them in spots that will optimize the sparkle factor). Mom always said that the key to making a great tree is to put some of the lights deep into the tree (in toward the trunk) to give it depth and provide maximum twinkle. Can’t skimp on the lights.
Ornaments are another place to be generous. I try to find great ornaments each year (preferably after Christmas, to get a good deal on bulbs I wouldn’t otherwise buy) and I have a color scheme to which I am loyal — clear lights with red, gold and white (but very few white) bulbs. So when I see a special red or gold bulb after Christmas, I scoop it up, add it to the collection, and look forward to putting it up the following year.
Mom insisted that the general idea is to hang the largest bulbs around the bottom and the smallest bulbs at the top, but I save a few small bulbs to sprinkle here and there around the middle (where I need more color). The shiniest bulbs go closest to the lights to maximize the sparkle. All of this is probably basic, basic tree trimming knowledge.
So now I’ll share some of my favorite Mom tips. First, how to use very effective little trimmings called sprays.
I’m not much of a crafty gal, but this trick is worth a trip to Michael’s (or AC Moore or whatever craft stores you have near you). Mom gave us some red and gold sprays that I carefully place in those bare spots that are otherwise just big, bland sections of green (Mom also used to add feathery birds to her tree, but I chose to omit them).
Another important Mom tip: ocassionally stand back a few steps and look at the whole tree to find the bare spots and fill them in with just the right decoration. I did just that and tweaked until I was satisfied. Then, I gathered up my french ribbon (the kind that has wire on each side — I use red ribbon with gold beads on the sides) and carefully wound it & twisted it around the tree. Finally, I used strings of beads and draped them around the tree, up and down the branches like this:
Then, when I finally finished, I made another cup of tea, got a little plate of cookies and sat and looked at it.For me, it’s the most special part of my ritual. That’s the time when I reflect back on all the past Christmases, back when mom was still alive. I think about my mom and grandmother and silently thank them for all the wisdom they passed on to me. I think about the time in college when my mom took me shopping for Christmas decorations because she wanted to help me set up my very first tree (away from home). I remember marveling at her attention to detail and understanding what a difference it made.
When I spend that special time looking at our tree, I am so grateful for the many warm, loving memories. I feel blessed to have had all those years learning Mom’s tips, decorating with her, buying new decorations, laughing and singing carols. All sorts of feelings start rushing through me. I start to wish she could be sitting there with me, also having a cup of tea and some cookies. I wish I could see her beautiful, sparkling eyes as she gazed approvingly at the tree.
At this time of year, I miss my mom the most. So my ritual often ends with tears. Sometimes I cry, other times I just sit and smile. No matter what, though, just before standing up and going on with the rest of my day, I always say, “This one’s for you, Mom. Thanks.”
2007 Christmas Tree (during the day)
2007 Tree at Night