Do you have a fake tree or do you go out and get a real one every year? My family is a staunch supporter of Douglas Fit farmers, buying a real, tall tree each year from a fundraiser that’s held at my former preschool. The only requirement for our tree — apart from being fresh and bouncy — is that it’s taller than me. Luckily for me — and my parents’ backs and wallets — I’m 5′ 2″ meaning most tree naturally tower over me by at least a few inches. Every year I look forward to buying and decorating the tree. I can’t imagine the holiday season without this ritual.
Italians don’t seem to be fans of real trees inside. They’re too wild and dirty, too unpredictable. No, the Italian families are fake tree advocates. I learnt this first hand when my host family decided to deck the halls the week after Thanksgiving. Instead of going out and lugging a 6′ tree home, they went down to the basement and pulled out a plastic job that couldn’t have been much more than four feet tall. It was barely the height of the eldest kid who noted how the tree seemed smaller than it did the previous year, did they put it together properly? They didn’t break out a box of carefully packed nostalgic ornaments bought over the years and therefore delightfully mismatched. No, they took out an assortment of red plastic ornaments and gold tinsel garlands. It was a tree coordinated enough to please Arthur Read. That is, it would have been had a seven year old not had a hand in decorating it.
Once the tree was decorated, the blinking lights going on after all the ornaments had been hung up, it was time to build the preseppe, or nativity scene. At my house, the day after the Christmas tree goes up and gets decorated, it’s time to put the village under the tree. The village, which was originally supposed to have a train running around it, belonged to my Dad when he was a kid and every year the little trees that came with it lose a few more leaves. The nativity scene belonged to the mother; it was a lovely little parallel. As they put everything into place they were thrilled to see a Christmas story coming to life before their eyes. It was the same, but completely different. I cannot imagine putting up a scene dedicated to gesu bambino under my tree.
There was no Christmas movie on television nor Christmas music on the stereo. There weren’t Christmas cookies in the oven nor hot cocoa ready for sipping. No one wore a theme sweater, socks or pajama bottoms.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with these traditions, it’s just that a tradition witnessed without sharing a history seems out of context, uncomfortably so. This ritual wasn’t Christmas, it was something else. Something that I don’t know and don’t understand. Fall might be a cultural phenomenon, but we forget how much Christmas is as well. After all, what else is a tradition but something made up to mark the passage of time?
Here’s to hoping that everyone has a beautiful holiday season filled with love, understanding and traditions, both new and old.
Do you prefer fake or real trees? What’s a holiday tradition that you cannot imagine the season without?