We had to do it, they told me. After all, it’s a tradition.
They had outgrown tricycles under the Christmas tree, Barney® coloring books in their stockings, and trips to sit on Santa’s knee. They no longer put out cookies and milk for Old Saint Nick, or even a few carrots for Rudolph, and they long ago had stopped asking for teddy bears and baby dolls.
But there are some things that remained the same about Christmases at our house, things that my youngest girls insisted upon no matter their ages.
It seems every year, time gets more precious during the holidays. Each year, when the season rolls around, there seems to be fewer and fewer moments to ourselves, and it becomes more difficult to squeeze in those traditions that still meant so much to my family – like the annual trip to the Christmas tree farm.
It was difficult that year to find the time for that trip. Between Brandi’s work and college schedule and Kristen’s myriad of teenage activities that demanded her attention, it was hard to squeeze in a few precious hours to make that journey for a tree.
But the girls insisted on that trip, and on a bright Saturday morning we carved out just a few hours for the event.
Like most every year since our children were small, we loaded up the clan – with only four left of the usual six of us — and traveled for over a hour to Chunky, Mississippi. We grabbed a hand-saw, roamed through the farm, looking at every branch of every tree to discover that perfect one, the one that seemed to be growing there just for us.
And when that perfect tree was chosen – with Mama getting the deciding vote, of course – we sawed it down (trying hard not to break Brandi’s nails, of course), climbed into the ‘sleigh’ (pulled by a tractor, not Rudolph), and carried the tree to our vehicle, and then to our home.
Each year as they grew older, some things changed about that trip. With each year, the changes became even more evident than the year before, and that particular year, the changes were stark and unmistakable.
The little-girl voices that had once sang ‘Jingle Bells’ from the back seat in years past was replaced by ‘Top 20’ songs from Kristen’s iPod® and the ringing of Brandi’s cell phone, and it seemed to take far less time for them to pick out their perfect tree – perhaps because other obligations awaited them back home.
But as we traveled home, the girls reminded me of more traditions that we have yet to fulfill this year, traditions like hanging decorations, unwrapping presents on Christmas Eve, and the birthday cake we always make for Baby Jesus. I smiled to myself as I heard them insist that all those traditions remain the same despite the changes in their lives.
That year, and for the years that followed, we have had to rearrange our Christmas schedule to fit theirs as spouses, a boyfriend and five sweet “grands” are now in the picture.
We will have to alter the times and places where we gather and re-think the plans for our family holiday events. (We may even have to learn how to cut down a tree without breaking a nail and sing Top 20 songs instead of ‘Jingle Bells’.)
But with each year that passes, with each change that comes into their lives and ours, with each milestone that marks their passage from childhood to adulthood, those family holiday traditions seem to become ever more important. It is those traditions that keep alive the holiday memories of those fleeting years of childhood, memories that they — and I even more — hope to hang onto forever.
To them – and to me — those traditions, those little habits that we’ve come to expect this time of year, are what make the season special. They are what draws us together despite the changes in our lives.
They are pieces of our family history that connect us with our pasts, with the treasured memories of family togetherness ... and with each other.
Dee Ann Campbell is editor of the Choctaw Sun-Advocate in Gilbertown, Alabama.