Christmas Greens and Other Traditions

Every family has its own traditions established over long years together – none more so than ours have been. Even before we were married my husband and I discovered that although or ethnic heritage differed greatly, both his family and mine shared many of the same traditions: a real tree, fir or pine, carefully decorated with heritage baubles, well-worn winter stockings hung on Christmas Eve to be filled by Santa, gifts opened after a full cooked breakfast, turkey for dinner on Christmas Day, with steamed pudding and dark fruit cake choices for dessert.

As a married couple we began making our own traditions by alternating visits to his parents and mine on the “big day.” Making a three hour drive on Christmas Day just to be able to share a part of it with each set of parents, as many of our friends did, seemed for us to be wasting precious time in the car. Generally we made a point of visiting the other people a few days later or celebrated New Year’s Eve in their town.

Upon the arrival of our first child we agreed the grandparents were welcome to come to us for Christmas but our new family would not be travelling to them during the holiday season. We believed, and still do, that children were entitled to enjoy their own home for that important celebration. In establishing that first principal we developed further our own family’s traditions. And so it has remained, with our daughter’s similar determination to allow our grandchildren to stay in their home for Christmas.

Until very recently the search and selection of a Christmas tree of appropriate size and having regal bearing was an important step in our preparations. During the early years our family of five went out together looking, and each person had a vote. With his forest industry affiliations and frequent trips through healthy young forests my husband often had one “spotted,” even before the first snow fall may have made it hard to choose well. When cutting our own tree was no longer an option because of where we lived he brought home a potted Norfolk Pine, the species of tree we traditionally chose for our Christmases in Hawaii. It graced our home here with lights and baubles for several years until it sickened and had to be discarded. My dream now is to find an artificial Norfolk Pine tree, reusable every year – they do exist. This year we have a little potted pine from the local nursery.

Although we enjoy seeing them and appreciate the effort involved, outside decorations or extravagant light displays have never been a big part of our Christmas preparation. A wreath or swag made of fresh local greens always adorns the front door and similar cut garden greens find their way into an assortment of inside non-floral arrangements. Encouraged this year by such a good crop of holly berries, I made swags for each of the gateposts as well.

Significant to living in this moderate coastal climate is the speed at which trees grow. Newcomers from other climatic regions find it hard to believe how frequently we need to trim hedges and shrubs. I remember the first Christmas we lived in this house when we decided to string outdoor lights on a young sequoia bordering the driveway. We used an 11 foot aluminum extension ladder to do the job, and used several strings of lights on an extension plugged in to an electrical switch controlled from a switch panel inside the house. That was 23 years ago. Today the same tree is 70 feet tall, certainly well beyond our climbing ability, even if we wore spurs. It remains there, free of any decoration beyond its natural grace and beauty.