Does anyone else feel a certain kinship with Charlie Brown when he brings home the little spindly Christmas tree?
When I was growing up we never spent money on a Christmas tree. Living in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, it seemed ludicrous to purchase what grew all around us on our own property. But let me tell you, all evergreens are not created equal. The trees on our property were not groomed or trimmed. They grew with the stress of the weather and the environment around them.
Whatever seeds fell from the surrounding trees were what grew. Hemlock boughs drape like green lace, but they’re not good for much else and are usually culled for more profitable and desirable wood. White fir and blue spruce make the prettiest Christmas trees, but cedar and pine grow the most abundantly around our home. Most trees stretched much too tall to fit under the short roof of our trailer.
We’d finally find one spindly tree that met the height requirements and drag it back to the house. My mother liked the tree to sit in a corner so she could hide the most pitiful side of the tree against the wall. (I’ve known some people who will drill a hole in the tree and stuff a branch into it to fill the bare spots. We never went this far.)
As a child, I never saw the tree with a critical eye. One of my favorite Christmas traditions is decorating the tree. I love the twinkle of lights and sparkle of red and white against dark green branches. The house smells like the forest, crisp and sharp. An anticipation of the season wrapped into a scent.
Our tree might not have been the grandest, but to me, those spindly branches were lush and beautiful. Just like Charlie Brown, I gazed upon our tree with love. When we look at something with love, it becomes transformed—redeemed into something whole, beautiful, and treasured.
My husband’s family tradition was to hike miles through tree farms or drive up mountain roads to find the perfect tree. It was an all-day affair. Caps and hats were worn so you could mark a tree as a maybe with your hat and continue on. Alas, many a hat was lost on the hunt.
Snow-caked boots and pant legs. Fingers stiffened in the cold. Up logging roads and steep switchbacks, their truck would chug through the ruts and snow. My father-in-law drove a log truck for a living, and handling the roads with a pickup was easy.
After hours of tromping through the woods they’d finally find the perfect tree. My mother-in-law remembers standing with all the kids on the side of the mountain while my father-in-law turned the truck around in the narrow icy lane. She waited until it was pointing back the correct way before letting the kids tromp back inside.
The mountain roads and woods have given shape to my family’s traditions.
Many times we think of traditions in concordance with holidays. Certain dishes are prepared for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Some families open all the presents on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas day, others open one present only on Christmas Eve.
But these traditions are brought out only certain times of the year. What of the traditions you and I perform every day? I think our weekly or daily traditions say much more about us than our holiday traditions.
We try to eat our supper together as a family at the dinner table. This was how we ate most nights when I was a child. My husband’s family also ate together. He remembers having to ask if he could be excused from the dinner table. Eating a meal together at the table is a form of tradition.
Many of us cleave to our family traditions. They’re memories and acts that define us. They tie us to loved ones, strengthening bonds every time we partake in the tradition. A tradition is a shared memory, a way of reaching back through time and loss. It’s establishing a connection with our children. A way to make sure that what we hold dear is carried on after we’re gone.
Are prayers part of your tradition? Is taking everything before the Lord something you’re handing down to the next generation in your family? My mother is a woman of prayer. Every night before bed she led me through prayers. It’s a tradition I continue with my own children. Every night when my head nestles the pillow I still say my prayers. I can’t go to sleep without first talking to God.
Maybe your childhood family left you with unhealthy traditions—patterns of behavior that hurt instead of lifting up. Unlike some of the traditions that have been passed down from our earthly family, godly traditions are only there for our benefit. And like our earthly traditions, we have a choice if we will keep them or not.
From The Made-from-Scratch Life by Melissa K. Norris