Before my parents divorced when I was 12, our Christmas traditions centered around the Christmas tree. Dad, my sister Lacy and I always tromped through the snow in the mountains of our ranch to cut down the ideal silver-tip fir tree. We were a staunch No Fake Trees, Don’t You Dare Buy One From Town kind of family.
After my parents split, we still had the real-live tree tradition, but we three no longer searched the forest for hours looking for Mom’s perfect tree. During college one year, on the rare holiday when Lacy and I were in the same place, we tagged along with Dad to trim a couple horses. On the way home, we stopped the pickup and hacked down a fir by the side of the road. We’re not the kind of family that lets tradition get in the way of efficiency – or legality, for that matter.
Another year, my aunt and uncle were visiting from Oregon. On Christmas Eve, my dad took them to town, where they shopped, ate dinner, and swiped a discarded Douglas fir from a Dumpster. My first thought wasn’t “Oh, how embarrassing – my father Dumpster dove for a Christmas tree!” but “Wow, that is way too close to a store-bought tree.” What can I say? My parents raised me right.
Half the fun of hunting for our own tree (in the mountains, not trash cans) was debating the symmetry, height, and fullness of each potential tree. The other half of the fun was a proud refusal to purchase a Christmas tree permit. I’m sure this goes back to some self-sufficient, rural (backwoods, perhaps?) mindset of my dad’s. Or maybe it’s just more fun to feel like you’re getting away with something – the same theory that propelled Dad to teach us girls to sneak into the county fair, rodeos, and concerts. Paying admission was like admitting defeat.
Sometimes, we’d take a friend’s used permit and tie it around the trunk of our freshly cut Christmas tree. That way, if someone saw it from afar, they’d assume it was bought and paid for. Did you also know that at a rodeo, you can take an ink pen, color the design on your friend’s admission stamp, quickly press the back of their hand to your own, and forge your own admission stamp?
Did you know we are a bunch of mooches? If you invite us over for Christmas dinner, I guarantee Dad will eat all the lemon meringue pie and I will drink all the mulled wine. My aunt and uncle will wash and dry all the dishes. They’re pushy like that.
In high school, Mom and I got creative one year and had a themed tree. We used only blue and silver decorations. It was nice; very Martha-Stewart-meets-Walmart, heavy on the Walmart.
During a different holiday season in high school, Dad was too depressed to help me decorate. I had to set up a tall live Christmas tree by myself, which is extremely difficult. I cried a lot, and not just because the tree ended up crooked after dozens of adjustments of the screws in the metal base.
These days, we still have a decorated tree in the living room each year, its branches filled with ornaments made when we girls were in the single-digit years. The fun is I never know exactly what kind of tree it is until I drive home on Christmas Eve; sometimes it’s a thick, bushy Douglas fir, one year it was a Charlie Brown type, one year it was plastic and lit up in psychedelic colors.
Instead of a tree, Mom and I had a Christmas poinsettia one year. We stacked our gifts around it, propped an “Our First Christmas”ornament against the flowerpot, and laughed ourselves sick.
This is Mom screwing my head back on after another gathering of our weird family. Note the cowoy hat ornament. It served the first part of its useful life hanging from the rearview mirror of my Dodge Neon, wafting a pleasant fragrance throughout the cab. Yes, we decorate with used air fresheners. Is that tacky? I don’t think that’s tacky.
Here’s me and my best friend, Casey, sitting in front of her parents’ tree and holding (of course) a wooden bowl over our heads. I wish I could explain…an inside joke, bad instructions from our parents, an impending indoor hail storm…but I have no idea what prompted this pose.