There was no question regarding getting the Christmas tree this year. We got up early, two days after Thanksgiving, gathering our bags of cold weather gear, and drove to meet the Seigneur side of the family along with our older son and his wife at the Estacada ranger station. After meeting, we drove up into the Mt. Hood National Forest with our $5 permit to chop down our always Charlie Brown Noble Christmas tree. A real tree. It is a great tradition. And this year we met with snow, so much of it that we were unsure we could keep going past a certain point on the road.
But our older son said, let’s do it, let’s keep going, that is why we have four wheel drive; so, we did keep going and had a great day at the mountains, playing — even surfing — in the snow, and we found that perfect tree that is now up in our living room to welcome and represent the Christmas season. It’s a wonderful tradition.
It’s just later that the issue came up.
Decorating the Christmas tree.
I’ve always emphasized the tradition, of our family adorning our tree together each year, ever since our children were young. I’d put on our favorite Christmas albums, listening to Amy Grant and Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby and Handel’s Messiah and Michael W. Smith and Lisa Marie Presley. I get out my camera and snap photos of our kids climbing on chairs to reach the high branches while glancing at ornaments crafted from their pre-school days or found on family road trips.
But, this year, our schedule has been crazy. It’s always crazy mind you, with kids in sports and music and youth group and Scouts. But, I hang onto traditions and I know we can find a time and I know it is important.
So, I ask my kids, “When can we decorate the tree together this year?”
They all gave varied excuses. Going out with friends. Working. Going to the neighbor’s house. Homework. SAT test the next day.
I’m busy as well. Coordinating schedules is hard work. You get this, don’t you?
“You guys, we need to find a time for us all to do this together. A half hour. Twenty minutes. Some time. When will it work?” I ask again.
Then the statement that stung.
Ouch. That one hurts. Is it true, I wondered, that no one cares?
I counter, that we all care but it’s just hard to find a time that works, but we will find a time, and it is an important tradition; even if it is a changing one, that needs to adapt to our ever-changing family schedule. Even if all we have is 10 minutes to decorate together, even if it is 10 O’clock at night, we will do this.
I’ve talked to moms who say they just decorate the tree alone. It’s easier, they say. But, I cannot do that. I will not do that.
Though it is not easy, I will continue to insist on keeping up on this tradition — and others — because I know in the end, my kids really do care, even though they may say that they do not care. Life is messy and not perfect and hard work, but it is all important nonetheless.
I remember about three years ago during Christmas time, it was busy, as it always is this time of year, and it was getting really close to December 25, and I still had not written my Christmas letter, as is tradition. I’ve penned a yearly Christmas letter since my husband and I first got married 27 years ago. In it, I share a little about what we have done during the past year, a nugget about each kid, a couple of highlights from summer vacations, and so on. I really do it just as much for myself and our immediate family, as much as I do it to keep in touch with our friends and family. That year, though, I thought out loud, maybe I will not do a Christmas letter. In the many years my husband and I have been married, I have maybe skipped once or twice. So, I thought, maybe I will just skip this year. Everyone is moving to email letters or Facebook messages.
No one cares anyway, I pondered.
But one of my twins, aged 13 at the time, said to me:
“Mom, you have to do a Christmas letter. You always do one. It’s a tradition.”
Okay, my kid noticed. My kid cared.
And, he was right. It’s an important tradition our family does.
So, I quickly wrote that letter and picked out the photographs for our photo Christmas card that accompanies the letter and I sent it off to Costco; and I got my Christmas letter out to as many people as I could before Christmas, while the rest of the letters went out after the holiday. But that is okay. It got done. It’s a tradition.
It’s interesting that our children appreciate tradition, but may not act like it, until we stop the tradition for a season.
Then, they will tell me they care.
For now, I strive to keep up the traditions around holidays and birthdays and other celebrations, knowing that, deep down, my kids do care. And that traditions do matter.
Traditions give our kids roots and branches, like a tree firmly planted, and healthy soil and a foundation of where they come from. That they belong to us, to our family. Traditions are a way to gather people together, year after year, monument after monument. Family, with whom we are comfortable — people who know us and accept us at our core — people for whom we do not have to perform to be accepted. Traditions are something that will bring our kids back, after they have left the nest, and they are comfort and safety and warmth and security, when the world is a storm out there.
My daughter and her husband are coming home from Germany for Christmas next week. My daughter talks about traditions with her brothers, getting the tree, decorating it together. As a 24-year-old, she looks back and longs for that togetherness with her brothers and family. And, my twins talk about going to the mall with their cousins during the Christmas season. And, my sixth grader loves the tradition of going to the beach during spring break for his birthday each year. It’s all tradition.
So, this year, our family did find our 15 minutes to put up our ornaments together; it was later at night that we started them and my high school kids had their SAT test the next day so they could stay up too late to finish; so we did not get them all up at that time. We did finish the next day, moments before friends were coming over, and my kids even humored me with my photographs.
I realize that it is okay to change traditions and morph them into what works for our family. And to know, that even if it is only 15 minutes, we should take it.
My kids care. Deep down, I know they do.
Even when they say otherwise.