I haven’t seen bubbling colored drums, and colored candle shaped bubbling lights for Christmas trees in years, but those are the ones I remember having when I was small. Pop took them in the divorce and always decorated his tree with them. A few years ago I found them in a battered old packing box in the garage. I’m afraid to use them now – they might be a fire hazard, but I still have them for nostalgia purposes. Mom had silk poinsettia lights. She loved the way the tree looked festooned with the lovely red flowers. They were such a part of our tree tradition that when she died, my aunt asked if I would give them to her as a remembrance of Mom; I brought them the first time we visited. The memories we make with our traditions are invaluable.
Christmas Eve was Mom’s Christmas. We would go to the candlelight service at church and then come home to dinner, cookies, and eggnog. We would wait until midnight and then tear into our gifts. Christmas morning we would go with Pop down to the city to visit my dad’s side of the family. There was always lots of food, snacks, presents, and tv. Before leaving each time we were down there, Grandma would take out “The Pot.” The pot was the most exciting part of the night. It was a small cast iron pot filled with change. Either my grandmother or my aunt would hold it above eye level, and we would reach in and try to grab as much as we could. Whatever we managed to pull out without dropping on the floor we got to keep. The trick was that if you took ahold of too much, you couldn’t get your fist out of the opening, and if you were too greedy, most of your money would slip out of your hands. It was all about being reasonable; if you took a decent amount without going crazy, you’d end up being able to keep everything you got out. The Pot was tradition, as was Pop’s assertion that we had “made out like frito banditos”.
When I started a family of my own, my husband and I had different traditions. He had always waited until Christmas morning to open gifts, I’d opened mine at midnight on Christmas Eve. We compromised. After the candlelight service at church, the kids all get to open one present. Then they wait to open the rest until Christmas morning. Decorating the tree has also become a tradition. When the kids were little, money was pretty tight, so we had this $20 artificial tree. The branches were so weak it couldn’t hold any ornaments, so I made them all out of foam, medicine cups and caps, and gold paint; I even fashioned an angel for the top with a little additional black yarn for hair, lace for the dress, and put my baby girl’s face on it. Each year after, even when we got to a point where we could afford a better tree and ornaments, the kids and I still made some of the ornaments and put my handmade angel on top.
We still use whichever of the handmade ornaments have survived on our tree each year. A few years ago my handmade angel broke, and since I had another little girl, I stopped putting it on the tree top and made a north star instead. This year, my older angel found what was left of the angel tree topper I had made so many years ago, her face hot glued onto a styrofoam ball with black yarn for hair and a gold bow that doubled for angel wings. She took it and placed it on the top in front of the star – It looked strangely disturbing, and I told her to take it down. Throughout our decorating time, however, it kept finding its way back to the spot on the top of the tree. Finally, I told her I would fix it and put it back. I didn’t have the supplies I needed, so I used a cinnamon-scented pinecone for the body, attached a gold wire halo and golden wings, and she now sits back on top of the tree. My other children’s faces made into ornaments peek out from different places all over the tree. Traditions matter – they remind us of who we are, they comfort us with consistency and inspire us to be more.
May your traditions make this holiday season merrier!