Christmas trees are one of my favorite parts of celebrating Christmas. Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving sees our family going and getting a live Christmas Tree and putting it up in our house. My husband is in charge of putting up the tree, putting on the star on top and doing the lights. After that I’m in charge of handing ornaments to the kids and letting them put them wherever and however they want. Later, after they’ve all gone to bed, I go to the tree and try to spread the ornaments out a bit better so they’re not all clumped together in one spot. Not that the ornaments stay where I put them. What with toddlers, preschoolers, kids throwing frisbees at the tree (on accident!), and the general inability of children to not touch shiny sparkly things, the ornaments get moved, dropped, picked up, and moved again. Over and over again. It’s a continual work in progress. Every year we lose a good handful of ornaments that just break from all the mishandling. I have developed a philosophical attitude about the whole thing, and just buy new sets of plastic shiny balls every year and try to hang my favorites or the most breakable ones way at the top of the tree where no one can reach. (We do tall trees.) (We have high ceilings.) (Why not?).
When I was a kid my Christmas Tree experiences were a lot different from my kids. Probably the combination of both my parents growing up in the tropics, being missionaries, and moving around a lot, the Christmas tree was not a sacred thing. We always decorated something. Just not necessarily a Christmas Tree. I remember when I was very little, in Haiti, my parents chopping down some kind of tropical bush/tree thing that had lots of little round leaves. That was our Christmas tree. Another year we decorated one of my mom’s indoor plants/bushes. Another year, when we were living in a trailer and planning on having company over the holidays, my mom declared that we simply did not have room for a tree. Instead we decorated one of her tapestry wall hangings that happened to be in a triangular shape. Other years we had an old fake tree that always looked a bit scraggly. The important thing though, was that we decorated something! We made things look festive and cheerful.
I carried this loose expectations of a Christmas Tree with me when I left home. When I was in college and Christmas time came around, I decided on the Christmas Stick. Yeah, I was going home for Christmas, but I was going to be in my dorm for almost all of December, that was several weeks of Christmas Cheer that I didn’t want to miss out on. So, dragging my roommate with me, we went in search of the perfect Christmas Stick (basically you need something with lots of little twigs on it). We decorated it with lots of laughter and it’s happy blinking lights made me smile as I pushed through finals.
When I was 20 I went back to Haiti for four months. I lived with my old piano teacher and helped out wherever I was needed. One of the places I was needed was at the mission school that was set up for the children of the missionaries. The small school had a couple teachers, but they were stretched thin and so I stepped in to teach math and science to the two sixth graders. We had fun. Christmas time came along and I determined that we must decorate our little classroom for Christmas. I did not have any stores available to buy shiny lights and pretty ornaments, so we got really basic. We made paper chains out of red and green construction paper. Then, I introduced them to the tradition of the Christmas Stick. We went out on an expedition to find the best stick ever and then worked out a way to keep it standing upright. We decorated the tree with paper chains and then used string to tie on our “ornaments” which were pencils and rulers and a nice shiny cd for the star. I admit, it was rather homely, but it made us happy and made the classroom feel cheerful.
After I got married I got to join in my husband’s tradition which was to get a live Christmas Tree every year. Yay! I kind of forgot about the Christmas Stick tradition. Then, this year we had cousins come to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. One of the young cousins asked if we could make a Thankful Tree. I said sure! She went out and found some nice sticks, set them up in a coffee can and then cut out leaves. Everyone wrote down things they were thankful for on the leaves and then we tied them to the tree with string. It looked very cheerful and was a great way to remind our kids about being thankful. We set the tree up in the center of our table for the big meal and just left it there.
After the cousins had left, we slowly got into the swing of decorating the house for Christmas. I was idly standing by the table, looking at the Thankful Tree and thinking I needed to take it down, when something suddenly clicked. Christmas Stick! I got excited! After a quick trip to the Dollar Store, I had everything I needed, the tradition had been revived!
I have no idea why silly things like Christmas sticks make me so happy. I’m just wired that way I guess. My kids roll their eyes at me, my husband smiles and shakes his head. But, deep down, I think everyone loves my Christmas Stick. 🙂