As far as I know, there is no older tradition in my family than getting Christmas trees. Until I moved away a few years ago, I don’t remember a single Thanksgiving weekend that did not include the trip to get our Christmas tree, making it at least a 30 year old tradition.
When I first went away to college, I was blown away by the attitudes of so many of my classmates and other students when it came to both their families and Christmas traditions. My family means the world to me. There are a few people I have met that feel that way also, but they usually consider “family” only ther parents and siblings. When I say family, I mean it in a grander sense. My mom has four siblings and they are all married. Each of them has one or two kids and with my grandparents it makes a good sized family. When I was growing up, all of these people lived within a 15 mile radius of one another. So that makes grandpa and grandma, four aunts, four uncles, six cousins, mom and dad, and my three sisters and me. My memories of this tradition always included all 22 of my favorite people in the world.
Since then, of course, many have moved away and my grandfather has passed away. But then, all of my sisters and myself are married, and three of have children of our own. Two of my cousins are married as well. The family has expanded quite a bit and when we are all able to get together for Christmas, it is a big and festive occasion!
I remember the drive. Sometimes I would get to ride with Grandma and Grandpa. Sometimes I would get to ride with Aunt Becky and Uncle Glen. Mostly, though, I would ride in the car with my parents and sisters and we would raucously sing Christmas songs, when we weren’t fighting for more space, of course. (This was in the days before minivans were prevalent, and we had a station wagon.)
I remember the smells. Aunt Linda would be hot cocoa and fudge. It was always cold and often snowing (it was up in Wisconsin after all). The trees smelled magnificent and piney. And there was so much noise when we first got there! Everyone getting out of their vehicles and congregating to chat and throw snowballs. A mass of chaos always befell our vehicle as we struggled to get hats and scarves, boots and mittens on before trekking through the woods to find the right tree.
Daddy is a master at picking the right tree. My parents and sisters and I would set off in the woods in the direction that my father chose. Soon it got quiet. Every tree farm we went to was huge and so it didn’t take long to get lost among the trees. So many trees and so much snow really dampened the sound. Tears come to my eyes at the sweet memory of it all. My sisters and I looking at the biggest trees and saying “Daddy, how about this one?” or “I found our tree, I just know I did!”. Slowly we would start to converge on one area and narrow down the prospects. Once a tree met at least the approval of Mom and Dad, we would all surround the tree and take turns taking pictures in front of it to make sure everyone got in at least one picture. Then my dad would get down under the tree and start sawing with one of those ancient, never as sharp as they should be, tree farm saws. Someone would reach in and pull the tree to the side to make it easier for him to saw through it and then, just like that, we had our tree.
The next step was hauling the tree back to the vehicles. Some farms during some years had tractors and wagons to help haul the trees back and I even remember a horse drawn wagon one year. Mostly we had to do it manually and as we got bigger, my sisters and I would help with the hauling. Once we got back to the vehicles we would look at the trees of the other family members and comment on the varieties and the sizes. Then it was time for hot cocoa and fudge and snowball fights. Lots of laughter ALWAYS followed my family. It still does, of course.
Next we would head back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a great meal that would include sloppy joes and chips, punch and great desserts, games and lots of laughter. Grandma’s house is always warm, with a fire going and family joking and hugging and goofing around. I always marveled at how people who had seen each other their whole lives, and continue to see each other at least once a week, could have so much to talk about. I hope my family isn’t one of a kind. I hope there are lots of families like this.
This year, the day after Thanksgiving, although my husband and kids haven’t participated in the Wisconsin tradition, and we live in southern Georgia, I convinced my husband to go to a tree farm near our home and cut down our own tree instead of buying it from a lot. We found a farm over the river in Alabama and the girls (2 1/2 and 1 year old) got on the wagon with us, and we trekked out to get our tree. There was no snow, of course, and the weather was fairly warm, but the tradition is continuing at least through this next generation. I want more than anything for my girls to have the kind of memories I have of family and fun.