Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar: Childhood Christmas Tree Traditions Remembered

Although I have most of my Christmas shopping done already, the holiday season does not truly start for me until the Christmas tree is decorated. 
I can count the number of times my family had a “real” Christmas tree on one hand, so my family’s Christmas tree tradition didn’t involve the selection of a perfect tree, rather our goal was to create the perfect tree.  After turning on the Christmas music, a mix of NSYNC, Kenny Rogers, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and the Beach Boys, the first step was carrying the many boxes of decorations from the basement crawl space to the family room. My two sisters and I would joke about who could carry the heaviest boxes and call for Dad when things were too heavy. The boxes filled almost half of the family room, and seemed to fill more space each year.
We set-up two trees, a small one in the family room which would be decorated with homemade ornaments (and if we were being particularily adventurous, a popcorn garland we'd make while watching Rudolph), and a larger 7 foot tree was set-up in the living room by the bay window near the entrance of the house.
It always seemed like half the day was spent just putting together the artifical tree and fluffing the branches.  I usually let my sisters do the fluffing while I helped my dad untangle the lights and test each set to make sure none of the bulbs were dead.  After Mom was content with the fluffiness of the tree, which was not an easy process, I helped Dad string the lights and put the angel on the top of the tree. Then, Mom put ribbon, which was white and outlined in gold, around the tree.  We all helped to place the tree skirt around the bottom of the tree, a crocheted piece that Mom and Dad had made together when they were newlyweds. 
The remaining pieces to be displayed on and around the tree varied each year.  In the earlier years of my childhood, Dad set-up a square green turf under the tree on which an electric train circled the tracks.  As I became older, Dad started a collection of Department 56 “Christmas in the City” houses which he placed under the tree in addition to the train set.  Each Christmas we gave Dad a new house for his collection, and Santa placed a small figurine in his stocking that coordinated with the house we gave him. (I always wondered how Santa knew which house we were going to give to Dad.) The collection quickly grew from a small village to a large city and eventually replaced the electric train set.  (Now the collection is so big Dad separates the display between the two trees. In this year’s display, Chicago White Sox themed houses are displayed under the small tree and the remaining houses are strategically placed under the large tree.)
Mom sat on the floor and unpacked the ornaments.  She placed them on the floor, organizing them into piles based on the individual to which they belonged.  My sisters and I took turns placing our ornaments on the tree, while Mom reminisced about how each ornament was given to us and provided us guidance on the best place for each ornament.  (We received an ornament each year for Christmas, a tradition we continue today.)  Later during the week while we were at school, Mom would place the ornaments in “better” locations and hope we didn’t notice (less attractive ornaments would be placed on the back of the tree, while the breakable ornaments were placed on top).  Dad helped us if we were too short to reach a specific spot and also put up his ornaments, specifically his Star Trek, Chicago White Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, and Bulls themed ornaments. 
When we were finished, we sat in silence on the living room couch gazing at our masterpiece while Christmas music played in the background.
Although an adult and have my own tree, I continue many of the same traditions in my home. Decorating the tree is still one my favorite parts of the holiday season. 


  1. Yeah that Santa is one smart dude, isn't he?!? I was always the branch "fluffer" in later years. During my childhood we had real trees, but much later my parents got an artificial tree and I always helped with that.

  2. Oh, gosh, I wonderful if my girls ever notice that some of the ornaments they hung had migrated? Love that you dad had his own themed ornaments.